Fentanyl Crisis: Swann calls on NDP to declare Public Health State of Emergency

Dr. David Swann says NDP must declare Public Health State of Emergency to stop fentanyl deaths

At a press conference today, Alberta Liberal Leader Dr. David Swann said that a Public Health State of Emergency is critical in slowing down and eventually halting the current opioid crisis.

“We are now five years into this growing crisis but still have very little information on the nature of this public health epidemic. About all we know is that death rates are approaching one a day and not improving under the current approach. A Public Health State of Emergency will mobilize resources and require ministries beyond Health, including Justice and Human Services, to work together. A state of emergency will also provide timely information on each death and give doctors, police, social workers and addiction specialists the tools they require to combat this epidemic.

“Any other preventable illness causing so much death and suffering would have long since been declared a Public Health Emergency.”

Dr. David Swann, MD, MLA Calgary Mountain View 

The press conference was held at the Alberta Adolescent Recovery Center (AARC), a treatment facility dedicated to youth aged 12 to 21.  

“AARC believes that we need to bring government, publicly funded agencies, and non-profit organizations together to fight fentanyl’s public health crisis, which is nearing one death per day in Alberta. While we applaud the government’s investment in the Naloxone program, which has helped to save lives, it is not getting to the root of the problem. In order to truly address the fentanyl crisis impacting families and young people in our community today, more funding is desperately needed for prevention and treatment.”

Dr. Jackie Smith, RN, BN, PhD, Director of Community Education and Outreach

 “When I was growing up, I was happy, smart and had a great life. I loved to dance and my family was everything to me. In Grade 8, my life suddenly changed when I drank for the first time. From there my drug use progressed. I quit dance and lost interest in old friends, family and the things I once enjoyed. I started using fentanyl when I was 19 years old and my use took me to a place where I didn’t have anything left. I signed in to AARC on January 26, 2016, tired and exhausted from my addiction. I am so grateful for my journey in recovery and the people in my life today.”

Tessa J, graduate of the AARC program

Dr. Swann, Dr. Smith and Tessa were joined by Rosalind Davis and Jessica Holtsbaum, partner and sister of Nathan Huggins-Rosenthal, who died of an opioid overdose in February. They have recently started a foundation called Changing the Face of Addiction, whose mission is to eliminate the stigma associated with addiction in the health care system.

“In the summer of 2014, Nathan and I bought an Edwardian house; we renovated, moved in, adopted a rescue dog and were ready to begin our lives together. Nathan was a successful stock broker with a philosophy degree and an MBA. He was handsome, charming and had a wicked dry sense of humour. Less than two years later, Nathan is dead. 

“The Government’s refusal to declare this crisis a public health emergency perpetuates the institutional and societal stigma surrounding addiction. As a family that has experienced firsthand the shame and anguish of addiction, we know the failure of our current system and believe that immediate action is needed to prevent more senseless suffering and deaths.”

Rosalind Davis, co-founder of Changing the Face of Addiction 


Recent statistics show that opioid deaths continue to increase. In the first six months of 2016 there were 150 fatal overdoses, during the same period in 2015, there were 139 deaths.

Premier Notley and Health Minister Sarah Hoffman have both stated that a declaration of Public Health Emergency is unnecessary as the government has all the powers it currently requires to handle the crisis.

“If the government has all the powers it needs,” concluded Dr. Swann. “Why don’t we know the characteristics of the victim? What opioids they’re using? How many people are being seen in ER and in jails? All we have is a body count – when the Health ministry chooses to publish it – and that’s not good enough.”