The Government of Canada Increases Access to Treatment for Opioid Use Disorder in Alberta

University of Calgary project will bring opioid agonist therapy to rural and Indigenous communities

OTTAWA, July 30, 2019 /CNW/ – The opioid crisis continues to be one of the most serious public health issues in recent decades. The crisis not only impacts urban areas, but also rural and remote regions and Indigenous communities across the country. Tragically, Alberta has been particularly affected by the crisis.

Today, the Honourable Ginette Petitpas Taylor, Minister of Health, announced funding of approximately $713,000 to the University of Calgary to develop a telehealth treatment model to increase access to opioid agonist therapy (OAT) within remote areas and in Indigenous communities in Alberta. OAT treatment involves the safe dispensing of medications, such as Suboxone, to treat opioid use disorder in a clinical setting.

Treating opioid use disorder with opioid-assisted therapy within a primary care setting is often complex and can require significant support from physicians to help patients through withdrawal and toward stabilization. The University of Calgary’s treatment model will provide virtual assistance to enable physicians to provide much-needed treatment in remote areas of Alberta. For example, the project will provide training for health providers through webinars and enable direct consultation with physicians or pharmacists through an online platform. It will also provide physicians with more direct access to specialists through an extensive online network.

Often individuals seeking treatment for opioid use disorder are required to travel long distances daily to obtain OAT medication in neighbouring towns. This project will remove such barriers to receiving treatment by supporting physicians in providing OAT right in their communities.

This initiative was developed in close collaboration with Alberta Health Services and members of Alberta Indigenous communities.


“Opioid-related deaths and overdoses continue to devastate families and communities across the country. Tragically, we lost 2,118 lives in Alberta from 2016 to 2018 because of the opioid crisis. This initiative will help ensure that all Albertans with opioid use disorder have access to treatment options no matter where they live in the province.”
The Honourable Ginette Petitpas Taylor
Minister of Health

“Enhancing primary care capacity for buprenorphine-naloxone delivery in Indigenous communities must address contextual factors like access to willing providers with adequate infrastructure to support patients, distance from pharmacies, and capacity to be responsive to emergent client needs. This requires on-the-ground partnerships across health, social services, and cultural systems to build wrap-around supports and inter-professional networks that support healing from colonization and its legacy of multi-generational trauma.”

Dr. Rita Hender
Department of Family Medicine
University of Calgary

Quick Facts

  • The opioid crisis has led to thousands of hospitalizations and deaths across Canada, including 2,118 opioid-related deaths in Alberta from 2016 to 2018. 
  • According to the Government of Alberta’s 2017 report on Opioids and Substances of Misuse among First Nations People in Alberta, First Nations individuals are three times more likely to die from an opioid-related overdose and five times more likely to be hospitalized for a substance-related poisoning. This is why engagement with Indigenous communities is a critical part of the Government of Canada’s response to the opioid crisis. 
  • The Government of Canada recently invested more than $100 million to address the opioid crisis and emerging drug threats, such as methamphetamines
  • Indigenous Services Canada is investing more than $425 million in 2019-2020 for culturally relevant community-based mental health and substance use prevention and treatment services for First Nations and Inuit.
  • The Public Health Agency of Canada is providing approximately $3 million for data collection to increase understanding of the impact of the opioid crisis and substance-related harms on Indigenous communities.
  • Funding for this University of Calgary project is provided through Health Canada’s Substance Use and Addictions Program (SUAP). SUAP provides financial support to provinces, territories, non-governmental organizations and key stakeholders for programs and initiatives that aim to prevent, treat and reduce harm of substance use issues.

Associated Links

Federal actions on opioids – overview
Substance Use and Addictions Program

SOURCE Health Canada