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Drugs

Alberta Turned Down $980,000 in Drug Treatment Funding During the Fentanyl Overdose Crisis

The Progressive Conservative government made the decision due to "budget constraints."

by Manisha Krishnan
Jan 12 2016, 4:05pm

The Alberta government has been criticized for restricting access to naloxone (above), a fentanyl antidote. Photo via Flickr user Governor Tom Wolf

This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.

Alberta, a province where more than 200 people died of fentanyl overdoses in 2015, rejected $1.4 million [$980,000 USD] in federal funding for drug treatment under the Progressive Conservative government just before they were turfed from office earlier that year.

After successfully applying for money from the Drug Treatment Funding Program (DTFP), the province told Health Canada it couldn't afford to accept the grant due to "budget constraints" and a "hiring freeze," according to documents obtained by the CBC.

Fentanyl-related death rates in Alberta are the highest in the country; 213 people were killed by overdoses from January to September last year (the most recent stats available), up from 120 in 2014.

In a March 2015 letter to Health Canada, Fern Miller, acting executive director of the addiction and mental health branch of Alberta Health Services, said the department wasn't equipped to handle the free money.

"As a result of delays and resource restrictions which inhibit acquiring funding and staff, [Alberta Health Services] would not be able to successfully complete its proposed DTFP project," she wrote.

The government also declined Health Canada's offer to extend the deadline for accepting funding.

A Health Canada memo addressed to former Minister of Health Rona Ambrose notes "this is the first time that a [province/territory] has declined [DTFP] after its proposal has been approved. No [DTFP] recipient has ever withdrawn their proposal before the completion of the approval process."

Alberta's current health minister, Sarah Hoffman, told the CBC it's "disappointing" the money was rejected. She said the government is currently working to get some of that funding and is investing $600,000 [$420,000 USD] to review substance abuse programs in the province.

Stacey Petersen, executive director of Calgary-based Fresh Start Recovery, told VICE that considering that agencies across Alberta are desperate for cash, this "doesn't make a lot of sense."

"There's got to be something else to it, because I can't wrap my head around turning down funding," she added.

The Alberta government has been criticized for failing to respond effectively to the fentanyl crisis, with a recent report calling for the removal of restrictions placed on first responders providing overdose antidote naloxone, more awareness, and increased collaboration with the federal government.

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