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Claire Porter Robbins is a Calgary-based writer and founder of Btchcoin News.

Overdose deaths in Alberta are rising, and that’s because people with addictions are using CERB to buy dope – or, at least, that’s what Jason Kenney says is going on here.

With a couple anecdotes in hand and zero hard evidence, the Premier turned a Dec. 18 press conference to address a provincial surge in overdose deaths into a lament about how federal income support “has the unintended consequence of significantly increasing the ability of people trapped in addiction to purchase dangerous drugs.”

For the thousands of Albertans who have lost a family member to addiction or its mental-health consequences – a number that includes me and my family – the Premier’s comments felt like a too-familiar gut punch. When you’ve tried everything and still lost someone to addiction, the implication that people with addictions are not trustworthy recipients of income support – especially if that implication comes from someone in power – is plainly hurtful.

We don’t want to hear the blame game. We want solutions, so that no other family has to hear about their loved one dying alone or in the streets.

And yet, with overdose deaths in Alberta now surpassing deaths by COVID-19 over the course of the pandemic, the Premier appears to be grasping at straws for a false scapegoat rather than taking action.

After all, federal income support is not a likely explanation for rising overdose deaths. First, according to Dr. Hakique Virani of the University of Alberta’s school of medicine, the spike in pandemic overdose deaths began in March, prior to the release of the first CERB payments in mid-April. In fact, the increase in overdoses from February to March was greater than the increase from March to April.

Second, if CERB was driving overdoses, provincial increases would vary with the number of CERB recipients. But while virtually the same proportion of people in B.C., Ontario and Alberta applied for CERB, there was a wide variation among provinces in overdose increases. During April, for example, fatal overdoses in B.C. went up by 4 per cent compared to 29 per cent in Ontario and 26 per cent in Alberta.

A likelier explanation for the surge in overdoses, says Dr. Virani, is that pandemic-related isolation has led to more people using alone. Additionally, as Dr. Elaine Hyshka of the University of Alberta has noted, a disrupted global supply of illicit drugs – leading to higher potencies and unpredictable ingredients – is also a factor.

Whatever the case, CERB is not the convenient scapegoat the Premier is looking for.

But here’s what the Premier can’t seem to grasp – with 1,029 fatal overdoses this year, Albertans aren’t looking for someone to blame right now. They’re looking for hard, evidence-based solutions.

To their credit, the government has made investments in crucial areas related to addiction, like better data collection, eliminating fees for detox programs and funding sobriety initiatives necessary for those who wish to enter recovery.

The key piece that’s missing, however, is harm reduction.

Every family member of a person with addiction wants them to get clean. But as countless studies have found, some people aren’t ready to undertake sobriety programs. Entering recovery programs prematurely actually puts patients at risk of relapse. And in the interim period before that point, harm-reduction initiatives save lives and prevent overdoses.

But this piece of the puzzle has been willfully ignored by the Kenney government despite ample evidence in its favour.

There are several missed opportunities that could have prevented our current overdose situation. The Premier has repeatedly rejected calls for greater support for supervised consumption sites, which Health Canada says “prevents accidental overdoses and reduces the spread of infectious diseases” – but which Mr. Kenney has dismissed as “so-called safe-consumption sites.”

Even innovative harm-reduction initiatives have been cancelled; the UCP’s pause on Alberta Health Services’s pilot for virtual supervised consumption services this summer represents a tragically missed opportunity. And safe-supply programs can prevent the type of fentanyl-related overdoses the province is experiencing. These programs already operate successfully in many parts of the country, yet the UCP continues to reject safe-supply proposals.

The bottom line is that the Premier had ample policy options to mitigate this year’s surge in overdoses. But rather than embracing proven harm-reduction measures, the UCP chose to focus on abstinence-only solutions – and now, Mr. Kenney is doubling down by casting aspersions on folks who are just looking for government support to get through a crisis.

No amount of finger-pointing will bring back those we’ve lost to overdose, and hearing the Premier blame people with addictions for misusing a federal stimulus cheque is no comfort to the pain many are feeling. Something needs to change. Will the Premier rise to the occasion?

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