A damning open letter signed by 58 physicians and research scientists assails a study commissioned by an Alberta Legislature committee examining safe supply programs for users of addictive drugs as being of “critically low quality” and rife with omissions and misrepresentations.

UCP MLA Jeremy Nixon, chair of the Select Special Committee to Examine Safe Supply (Photo: Facebook/Jeremy Nixon).

The study by a group affiliated with British Columbia’s Simon Fraser University, which concluded the researchers could find no evidence demonstrating benefits of a public supply of addictive drugs, is clearly likely to be used by the Kenney Government to justify its rejection of safe-supply programs for drug users in the face of thousands of drug poisoning deaths in Alberta. 

The open letter to the Alberta Government’s Select Special Committee to Examine Safe Supply, which was released yesterday, highlighted eight major shortcomings in the report produced by researchers affiliated with the Centre for Applied Research in Mental Health and Addiction at SFU and expressed serious concern about “the recommendations your committee may make as a result.”

The letter says its signatories base their concerns on an assessment of the SFU group’s study done by experts at the British Columbia Centre on Substance Use, a provincial organization affiliated with the University of British Columbia with the mandate “to develop, help implement, and evaluate evidence-based approaches to substance use and addiction.”

The eight major shortcomings outlined in the open letter are:

–       The report’s conclusion is not based on existing evidence

–       It doesn’t accurately describe safer-supply interventions

–       It doesn’t accurately describe the full range of clinical opinion on safer supply

–       It doesn’t accurately describe the preferences of people who use drugs

–       It mischaracterizes the expertise of researchers its authors quote

–       It misrepresents the range of recommendations made by experts now evaluating safe supply issues

–       It includes recommendations drawn from materials not reviewed by the report’s authors that were not based on scientific evidence

–       It fails to properly analyze cost or cost-effectiveness

The letter bluntly concludes: “We ask that you kindly refrain from basing any policy or funding decisions regarding safer supply interventions on this flawed report.”

Opposition Health Critic and former committee member David Shepherd (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Needless to say, it’s very unusual to see researchers affiliated with one university publicly attacking the methodology used by a research centre affiliated with another post-secondary institution, across town in Vancouver’s Lower Mainland, no less. 

Which is not to say that scientific researchers don’t frequently have sharp disagreements about the methodologies or conclusions of other researchers in the same field, but normally those differences are worked out through the peer-review process for academic research. In this case, however, peer-review is unlikely to apply as the paper was commissioned by a Legislature committee and not drafted for submission to an academic journal.

While the open letter doesn’t venture any opinions about why the SFU-affiliated research group would have diverged from what the UBC-associated group implies should have been standard operating procedure, the presence of the harshly worded letter certainly begs that question. 

It is also unusual for an obviously serious university-affiliated research group to lob a metaphorical hand grenade into the work of a government committee in a neighbouring province.

However, perhaps in this case the intervention is less surprising since the Kenney Government committee appears to many critics in Alberta to be operating with a clear agenda to find reasons to reject safe-supply programs no matter how effective they may be at saving lives and instead prescribe alternative treatment programs more in sync with both the UCP’s ideology and its political needs.

NDP MLA Janis Irwin, another of the NDP MLAs who resigned in February from the Special Committee to Examine Safe Supply (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

It is not unusual, after all, for Alberta’s UCP Government to rely on the work of researchers whose methodology may be disdained by others in their field. Most often, though, such conclusions are reached by economic think tanks like the Vancouver-based Fraser Institute, beloved by conservative ideologues and less well loved by professional economists. 

The work of the Alberta committee has been fraught. In February, the four NDP MLAs on the committee quit, calling its work “an extended political stunt.” In a letter to Speaker Nathan Cooper, New Democrat MLAs Lori Sigurdson, Janis Irwin, Kathleen Ganley and David Shepherd, the Opposition health critic, accused UCP members who make up the majority of the committee of being “profoundly disrespectful to the tens of thousands of grieving Alberta families who have lost loved ones to the drug poisoning crisis, and those Albertans who are working in our communities to prevent further deaths.”

Committee Chair Jeremy Nixon, the brother of UCP House Leader Jason Nixon, responded by calling the NDP resignations a political stunt.

Among the witnesses heard by the committee was the author of a book entitled San Fransicko: Why Progressives Ruin Cities.

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22 Comments

  1. Don’t expect the UCP to do the right things to help the downtrodden in society. It’s beneath them to do anything that would help those who have a hard time helping themselves.

  2. Perhaps there is time to correct: “Pursuant to Government Motion 22, agreed to by the Assembly on April 26, 2022, the deadline for the Committee to present its report to the Legislative Assembly was extended from April 30, 2022 to June 30, 2022.” – https://www.assembly.ab.ca/assembly-business/committees/ESS

    ps: [1] checked their first 2 articles which they said didn’t define safe supply – they both define safe supply.

  3. Addicts dont need safe drugs, they need their lives fixed, but Canada isnt willing to pay for that. We will pay for “safe” drugs, or euthanasia, only. Once these poor souls get onto disability, theyre encouraged to kill themselves, because its cheaper for our government. Even the UK (Spectator) is making fun of us for this. Dave, report on some REAL news, please. We dont pay disabled people enough, including in Alberta, and now our government wants them all to pick MAID. Addicts need resources OTHER than drugs, OBVIOUSLY, like a safe home. Do we get them safe homes? No. Just “safe” drugs. Canada and the left are broken.

    1. Safe supply is an essential part of getting folks off drugs and into a more productive existence. Just like housing and counselling. You can’t help people that are dead. This comment is ignorant, in the most literal way.

    2. Hi there DepressedStill,

      I am truly sorry about the personal issues you struggle with. I hope you are able to receive the help you need.

      Could you please show me where “our government wants them [disabled people] all to pick MAID [medically asssisted suicide].”?

      Thanks.

    3. Thousands of Albertans have died from drug poisoning since the UCP formed government and closed supervised injection. Those folks, their families? They mean nothing to you !? Right and the left is broken.

    4. DepressedStill: How will drugs laced with other things that could be bad, help someone? They need safe drugs, then help getting off of those.

  4. David Staples, the Tucker Carlson of the Edmonton media has been pushing this theory by the author Shellenberger. PostMedia is in support of the UCP most of the time, but they have the practice of having Staples write an unsupported article based on his opinion in order to plant the idea. Staples is the Johnny Appleseed of stupidity and terrible ideas on behalf of the UCP when it comes to their plans for Education in Alberta, but by taking this approach PostMedia is going to cause unnecessary death and despair instead of promoting safe use facilities.

    1. Hey buddy, discovery math ruined my life by making me a raving communist! Who else will ensure this scourge of a teaching method is purged from the new UCP school curriculum? Many people are saying sasquatches use discovery math to make anti-oil propaganda!

      Plus, small modular reactors!! I mean, come on!

      What are you, Darcy, a luddite or just against that brilliant journalist, the Stapler??

      /s

      1. It’s true! *sob* Those dastardly leftists at the CBC made us do it! They said, “Listen, the headline can be ‘Discovery Math Reveals Oil Causes Pollution Therefore We Must Do Communism,’ or ‘Bigfoot Discovered, Is Delicious!’ The choice is yours.”

  5. It’s well-known that Kenney and the UCP are big believers in the only drug that you need is Jesus-Dope.

    It’s highly addictive, loaded with endorphins, and enhances one’s ability to disregard whatever they do and think, no matter how stupid it may be. In fact, it’s like any other addictive drug, except you can only find it at a church.

  6. Hmmm. A “witness” heard by the Committee. It appears that was one Michael Shellenberger, a climate change denier and nuclear power lobbyist. So now he’s switched to attacking safe supply. An earlier book by him was reviewed in Yale Climate Connections in 2020 under the title: “Bad science and bad arguments abound in ‘Apocalypse Never’ by Michael Shellenberger – A new book that critiques environmentalism is ‘deeply and fatally flawed.’”

  7. More and more, the spectre of “social Darwinism” [which is definitely disparaging of Darwin, his work and his spirit] comes to the fore with this ‘government’. Seems that all of us who are not “fit enough” to live in their neoliberal, neo-con universe should just shrivel up and blow away.

  8. UCP MLA Jeremy Nixon, chair of the Select Special Committee to Examine Safe Supply Chair Jeremy Nixon
    Looks as though your caption was supplied by the Department of Redundancy Department.

  9. In light of recent events in the US, specifically the unsuspecting leak of a judicial draft concerning a forthcoming decision that will impact the primacy of Roe v. Wade, I am beginning to suspect that J. Kenney might to up to some kind of amazing pretzel logic that will make a normal person’s head explode.

    Under decisions concerning the Canada Health Act, abortion in Canada is effectively legal and a rightful medical procedure for women to seek out. (Though the service may not be available in certain provinces because of resource constraints.) It may be that this is just the ticket to get Kenney’s back on board his train.

    The pro-life brigade doesn’t believe Kenney has done anything for their cause. Though Kenney never stops yammering about being pro-life and speaking to his cred in this area, the feedback is always ‘what have you done for the cause, lately?’ Pushing a private healthcare option (as standard because that’s going to be everyone’s default public healthcare option) allows Kenney to put up another firewall against federal intrusion, specifically in the area of public healthcare.

    I can see it now…the UCP introduces the “Alberta Private Healthcare and Medical Services Implementation Act” which will affect establish a regulatory environment for private providers. Of course, there will be little to no regulation for private healthcare providers in Alberta because freeDUMB, except for one interesting clause, the section that governs the moral mandate for all private healthcare providers. Effectively, this moral mandate will allow private healthcare providers to exercise their best moral judgment in the manner of the services their provide. So, it will be up to the providers to decide what and how they are going to function. Effectively, the government will be laissez-faire about everything to do with private healthcare services. No abortions if no one is willing to offer the service on personal moral grounds.

    Once public healthcare (governed by the Canada Health Act) is completely starved of funding and utterly decimated, leaving only the private healthcare providers available, abortion will effectively be abolished in Alberta.

  10. So the MLA chairing the committee to determine if supervised injection has a future in Alberta is the son of a board member of the mustard seed, a terrible organization that has benefited monetarily from the UCP shenanigans with supervised injection. Cool. Nothing to see here.

  11. Total number of Albertans who overdosed outside of safe injection sites in 2019 = 1700+ (as per CTV News Calgary tinyurl.com/57wyhsmt)
    Total number of humans on Earth who have overdosed in a safe injection site, ever = 0 (as per John Oliver).

    https://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/c-46/section-219.html
    Criminal negligence
    219 (1) Every one is criminally negligent who
    (a) in doing anything, or
    (b) in omitting to do anything that it is his duty to do,
    shows wanton or reckless disregard for the lives or safety of other persons.
    Definition of duty
    (2) For the purposes of this section, duty means a duty imposed by law.

    I’m not a lawyer but it sounds as though if the Albertan government has a duty imposed by law to take reasonable precautions to prevent its citizens from dying needlessly, it is guilty of criminal negligence.

    From the Charter of Rights and Freedoms:

    “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.”

    Perhaps a class action lawsuit on behalf of the friends and families of those who died needlessly of overdoses while the Alberta government actively obstructed their Charter right to life ought to be brought forward?

  12. Safe supply is coming for two related reasons: no other approach to ameliorating the overdose epidemic (since 2015-16 when illegally-made fentanyl appeared) has worked so far; safe supply—that is, opioids of known content and dose—does work because users no longer need to resort to using street drugs of dangerously varying potency and are introduced to medical attention and addiction treatment services.

    The efficacy of safe supply in parochial analysis is obscured by authorities’ intentionally narrow scope, abusable stats, parsimonious implementation and, recently, by the Covid pandemic (which resulted in users using street drugs while alone when naloxone can’t be administered in the event of an overdose and unconsciousness). As a result, the rate of fatal overdoses—which appeared to have peaked and turned around before the pandemic hit in March 2020–has risen drastically—in fact rivalling the rate of deaths from Covid, itself, which has, in stark contrast, received the most remarkably intensive and expensive government intervention since WWII. If a single percent of that money was spent on the overdose epidemic (in BC, since 2015-16, ten-thousand people have fatally overdosed), we would have a robust safe-supply system replete with personnel and facilities accessible to the entire province.

    Safe supply has been inadequate only because not enough users can access safe supply, and too many who can are discouraged by restricted supply and opioid substitutes which, together, do not meet their needs. Government parsimony is blatantly obvious and the political chill is fairly plain, but that shouldn’t condemn safe supply itself. In BC, six or seven people die every single from using toxic street drugs.

    “Pubic Supply of Addictive Drugs/a Rapid Review” —the politician-commissioned report which the UCP government is now considering —is, in addition to the obviously loaded title and self-confessed triteness, is most conspicuous for completely denouncing the positive results shown by numerous safe-supply studies—which indicates ulterior motives. Years before the overdose epidemic, Vancouver’s NAOMI pilot project, for example, dispensed clinically pure heroin adequate to the study group’s needs to preclude their resort to ‘topping-up’ the prescribed dose with illicit street drugs. The year-long pilot was remarkably successful in helping subjects get their lives back together, reacquaintIng with family, securing housing and employment, and precluding degrading and illegal activities formerly required to pay for exorbitant street drugs. Public heath authorities from around the world came to Vancouver to study NAMOMI’s successes and other measures like safe-injection sites (where street-drug users are monitored by medical staff and saved if they overdose). Today, during the current, ongoing illegally-made fentanyl epidemic, the most important objective which safe supply easily achieves is to offer users a safe alternative to dangerously prepared street drugs, over 90% of which, as police drug seizures have confirmed, are laced with illegally-made fentanyl—in most of Canada, that is.

    It’s much different in the USA where the lack of universal public healthcare, five times as many federated health administrations as Canada, and tens of millions of private health insurance polices create an easily corruptible distribution system of pharmaceutical opioids which, as a result, are regularly seized by police on the illicit street market. In Canada, virtually all ostensible pharmaceutical opioids sold on the streets are counterfeit and laced with illegally-made fentanyl. The distinction between the two nations is important for a few reasons.

    Although contrasting in many respects, certain aspects of American culture influence Canada’s. The existential crisis conservative parties are experiencing around the world includes Canada and the most powerful nation in history with which we share the longest bi-national border in the world: the Republican party foments a much more intense “culture war” which, for example, can override the large majority of Americans who desire universal public healthcare (envy of Canadian public healthcare is about all most Americans know about our country). Growing liberalism pushed right-wing US politicians to ally with televangelists and make abortion a hot-button issue among mostly rural White Christians across the continental interior of the country which, up until the early 60s, was considered a private issue by these, mostly Protestant citizens (as opposed to Roman Catholics). A contrast with Canada, in this regard, can be variously attributed (our “Natural Governing” liberalism, officially bilingual multiculturalism, multiparty parliaments, our federal Health Act, &c), but some nominal conservative parties in Canadian are ginning the abortion issue, more to steel morale of their SoCon factions than steal the affections of a majority of Canadians, even though the neo-right’s most successful federal leader had explicitly forbidden his caucus from even mentioning it because the majority of voters approve of a woman’s right to chose. We hardly need to cite other instances of Canadian politicians adopting Republican polemics to corroborate the entirely one-way flow of US partisan tropes into right-wing demagoguery north of the border (climate-change and Covid denial, anti-immigrant and domestic bigotry, &c, are among the list). Today’s revelation of the SCOTUS leak that it will overturn Roe vs Wade (which legalized US abortions 50 years ago) coincides with the CPC leadership race where the abortion issue and ‘pro-life’ will surely raise its ugly head—even though the electoral majority is pro-choice. This question comes up all the time now: why do so many right-wing parties espouse unpopular causes while they lust after power with boot-filling drool?

    The “War on Drugs” is but another conservative trope which the Canadian right had vigorously adopted (recall that the HarperCons’ attempt to shut down safe-injection sites, frustrate medical Cannabis exemption from then-prohibition, and install mandatory minimum sentences for marijuana infractions were soundly shit-canned by the courts), but it looks like Alberta’s UCP is gathering together sensational swatches with which to quilt a usefully provocative narrative it can use to fend off its main rival in the upcoming general provincial election expected in a year —or possibly sooner. But this trope’s even more remote from electoral approval. Neither is the current spate of state-sponsored class action lawsuits against Big Pharma in the USA much convertible to the Canadian situation.

    The UCP is in serious political trouble, from within and outside, for a number of reasons, but especially because of how it dealt with Covid when its (now-erstwhile?) most-loyal base, influenced online by the US presiduncy which declared the virus a hoax purely for partisan purposes. Alberta premier Jason Kenney unabashedly adopted this notion only a year after winning a convincing majority of the popular vote when it should have been assessed as impolitic and devoid of the puniest particle of precautionary principle. K-Boy had already copied climate-change denial, sidled up to anti-abortion SoCons, and fraternized with “some very nice people” in their far-right, outlaw-biker regalia, ginned anti-government sentiment and wove a narrative of unjust victimization and righteous revenge—just like tRump did all these things. Did Kenney really need to risk gaming with Covid when he could have at least sandbagged with status quo Covid protocols.

    Perhaps, just over a year into his maiden mandate, potentially damaging revelations about his big election win and the disappointing forfeiture of rhetorical capital spent on federal CPC’s failed campaign in the fall of 2019 convinced Kenney his electoral base needed shoring up by way of ginning a “Covid hoax.” Yet, unlike tRump, he had three years, not one, to go before testing the UCP’s first incumbency. If bobbling the dubious tactic was as risky as it turned out to be, K-Boy should have been much more reticent to ape tRump: although tRump’s mishandling of the pandemic denied him a second term, it wasn’t by much; in comparison, the tRumpublican tactic has absolutely kicked the shit out of Kenney’s and the UCP’s chances of winning theirs. How can ginning safe supply—into which no Canadian government, perhaps least of all Alberta’s, has dipped more than a shivering toe—possibly save the party from what looks like a drubbing at the polls, one they so richly deserve?

    That’s what this report’s all about: the contest with the NDP, not with the factionalism within the UCP party. To that extent it’s consequences are contingent upon whether K-Boy keeps his leadership or not since he personally has so much more to atone for than any of the potential candidates who would replace him. All they get from this report is a bunch of references to other work collated in a most biased way, replete with gallingly obvious omissions of fact. But nobody can say they weren’t warned of its dubious quality.

    It also looks like typical Kenneyism: take evasive action which makes matter worse. Remember: safe supply might be impeded in physicians’ colleges, aging, “Just-Say-No” warhorses, and street pushers of deadly illegally-made fentanyl, but politicians —who typically fear voters’ wrath—realize that public prejudices against safe supply have eroded steadily in the past several years for the simple reason that so many people from all walks of life have been touched by this tragic epidemic, and even cops add their approval of safe supply to that of long-standing proponents, of first-responders, ER staff, public health officials, and ordinary citizens.

    In short, although it’s way overdue, safe supply is getting more politic to achieve, which means that Kenney’s UCP is probably going to head down the wrong healthcare path in order to tickle wobbly support from the most ginnable faction of his base—that is, purely for partisan gain ulterior to public health.

    Really, Jason! What are you thinking?

    PS: thnx, DJC, for showing us these documents. K-Boy’s gonna find it harder now to bamboozle Albertans, guaranteed!

  13. Another day another attack on another division of the public . Now it’s people with diabetes in an obvious plan to force them into a privatized system. I wonder what will be next? Some think they will scrap our Blue Cross system and force people to buy private for profit insurance , likely benefiting Tyler Shandro’s wife, what do you think?

  14. Opponents of harm reduce & safe supply say they’re focused on “recovery”. OK, that’s fine, recovery is obviously important and sobriety the preferred outcome of treatment. But, it’s not an either-or situation. Addiction is a complex chronic disease and successful treatment is not only an ongoing journey, rather than a short, sharp intervention, but it is dependent on the individual’s readiness to change.
    The thing about harm reduction and safe supply is simple: dead people can never go into recovery-focused treatment. We need to keep people living with addictions alive until they reach that point where they achieve readiness to enter treatment and work towards recovery. We also need to keep alive those few who will, for various reasons, never get there.
    There’s no question, we need more resources devoted to treatment so that when a person living with addiction makes the decision to go into treatment, the system will be able to accommodate them while their readiness is high. But we also need resources to keep people alive while they’re not yet ready.

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