Federal health minister calls on Alberta government to rethink closure of opioid treatment program

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The United Conservative government extended the funding for iOAT programs in Alberta for one year, after the original grant was set to expire in March 2020. But the government announced it would not be renewing the grant for the first-of-its-kind opioid dependency programs in Calgary and Edmonton in March.

Kassandra Kitz, a spokesperson for Jason Luan, the associate minister of mental health and addictions, said in a statement the extension was given to “allow for the safe transition of the pilot participants into other existing clinics where similar services are available.”

“Enhanced wrap around services may be added if required,” she said.

Kitz said more than 40 per cent of active iOAT clients have successfully transitioned to other treatment options.

“We are confident this transitional work will be completed by the end of March 2021.”

She declined to comment specifically on the health minister’s call to reconsider.

The federal health minister’s statement comes shortly after 11 Alberta iOAT patients launched a legal challenge against the UCP, alleging the province breached their protected rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Edmonton lawyer Avnish Nanda, who represents the patients, said without these kinds of programs, the overdose crisis will continue to get worse and more people will die.

“I’m glad that the federal government recognizes the effectiveness of iOAT and is calling on the provincial government to do the right thing in allowing these facilities to function,” said Nanda, adding that he would like to see the federal government continue to advocate for these programs given what’s at stake.

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