Alberta announces ‘record-breaking’ budget for addiction, reports on recovery-based approach

Alberta officials have announced “record-breaking” spending on addiction recovery in the state’s upcoming budget and a new panel of leading international experts to inform Alberta’s recovery-based approach.

Speaking at the annual Alberta Recovery Conference in Calgary on February 22nd, Minister of Mental Health and Addiction Nicholas Milliken said:

Speaking at the conference on February 21, Prime Minister Daniel Smith said: …When we say recovery is possible, we are offering hope and optimism to those who often live without hope.

When the United Conservative Party came to power in 2019, the annual funding for mental health and recovery was $87 million, she said. In her February 28th-filed budget, she proposes $275 million.

recovery community

That budget includes $75 million in new investment in building recovery communities, bringing the total investment in these communities to more than $200 million. Smith described the community as a holistic, long-term facility where “people have time to work on all parts of their lives, not just their recovery.”

Six are already underway, and the first Red Deer will soon be ready to welcome its first residents. With this budget, he will also add three more communities. The one in Gunn and Lethbridge is due to open this year.

Smith and Milliken highlighted that they are working with Brad Tribe in southern Alberta to build a facility that combines modern addiction treatment with traditional Indigenous culture. Smith said he hopes this will become more of a model.


Since 2019, the Alberta government has added 10,000 new spaces for detox and addiction treatment, according to Milliken, bringing the total to 29,000. He said some of the biggest advances include eliminating the $40-per-day fee for residential addiction treatment and establishing the Virtual Opioid Dependency Program (VODP).

“If there is one thing that can have a serious, huge impact to improve the lives of so many people, it is to include VODP-type systems,” he said.

VODP brings treatment to Alberta via a protected video app, providing counseling, opioid addiction nursing and medications from local pharmacies when needed.

Milliken announced that a panel of 16 experts will help Alberta advance its addiction recovery mission. The panel will be chaired by Dr. Keith Humphreys, Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University. He advised two U.S. presidents on drug policy.

Panels include public policy experts, psychologists, physicians, Indigenous leaders, and justice system experts.

Alberta has deployed task forces aimed at interventions in Edmonton and Calgary in recent months, with a combined budget of $187 million. The task force includes four ministers, police, health officials, and indigenous leaders. They are also establishing a police and medical hub model where the health service and justice system work together.

Recovery and mitigation

Prime Minister Smith’s chief of staff and former addict Marshall Smith also spoke at the Feb. 21 conference. It’s healing in all aspects of health and wellness and the consistent pursuit of a drug-free life,” he said.

Smith said Alberta is spending four years on an effort that would take at least eight years. That’s what Alberta’s communities will look like in 2030, he said.

Data collection is underway to analyze how Alberta’s recovery-oriented approach is performing. Smith said the Alberta substance use monitoring system will soon be online, allowing anyone to access the data. He tracks treatment admissions, average wait times, and outcomes while withholding personal information.

He showed a sample, showing a graph tracking emergency department visits related to substance abuse. In the third quarter of 2021, Alberta peaked at approximately 4,100 visits. This is related to the pandemic, Smith said. By the third quarter of 2022, visits had returned to pre-pandemic levels at around 2,500 visits.

Harm reduction, which generally aims to help addicts use drugs safely, doesn’t necessarily stop them from using drugs, but is part of Alberta’s approach, Smith said. increase. However, Alberta’s ultimate goal is recovery and its harm reduction methods are tightly regulated.

Since 2019, the number of safe spaces has not declined, he said. The government closed one for him, but he opened another. Alberta is more rigorous in ensuring quality, for example, by making sure staff are well trained and undergo criminal background checks, Smith said.

As a result, “the number of times an ambulance had to be called to a monitored point of consumption has been reduced almost dramatically.”

Other initiatives

He focused on other programs in Alberta, including establishing recovery centers at all 26 post-secondary campuses in the province. Some recovering addicts withdraw from higher education, Smith said, because college culture includes so much alcohol and drug use.

Counseling Alberta connects people with counselors almost instantly. He said he would call in the morning and he could have his first counseling session by the afternoon.

Milliken highlighted its “Made in Alberta” digital overdose response system. The drug user presses the “Start” button on the app while using it alone. About 70% of overdoses occur when a person is alone, he said.

The timer counts down. It can be extended or canceled, but if the deadline expires and the user does not respond, the response center will call for check-in or send medical assistance if there is no response.

Milliken said the Alberta government is “working with community partners across the province to bring about a national approach to addiction recovery by transforming systems that were previously inaccessible, inaccessible, and had too many barriers and gaps. I became a leader,” he said.