Alberta’s Child and Youth Advocate has released a follow-up report on youth opioid use. Renewed Focus: A Follow-Up Report on Youth Opioid Use in Alberta explores what has changed since the Advocate’s first report on this issue was released in June of 2018.
The Advocate is calling on government to develop and implement a provincial youth strategy to address opioid and substance use.
“The impact of the opioid crisis on young people and their families has worsened over the past three years,” said Del Graff, Child and Youth Advocate. “We need government to take action now to ensure young people have access to the continuum of services they need.”
In 2020, 95 young people under the age of 25 died from accidental opioid poisoning in Alberta. So far in 2021, 29 deaths were reported in the first quarter alone. If this trend continues, the number of young people lost to the opioid crisis this year will be the most devastating on record.
“It is our hope as an office that we never have to write follow-up reports,” said Terri Pelton, Executive Director, Child and Youth Advocacy. “While we saw some action on our recommendations early on, it has not been sufficient to change the trajectory of this crisis for young people.”
The Child and Youth Advocate has the authority under the Child and Youth Advocate Act to complete special reports on issues impacting children and youth who are receiving designated government services.
The Office of the Child and Youth Advocate is an independent office of the Alberta Legislature representing the rights, interests and viewpoints of young people receiving designated government services.
New recommendation from Renewed Focus
- The Government of Alberta with leadership from the Ministry of Health, should establish a dedicated body such as a panel, committee, or commission to develop and support implementation of a youth opioid and substance use strategy.
Previous recommendations from Into Focus
- Increase the level of health promotion and age-appropriate substance use education in curriculum from elementary through high school.
- Child-serving ministries should have appropriate risk identification and knowledge of how to connect young people and their families to appropriate services. This should be part of the provincial youth strategy.
- Strengthen their substance use related interventions for young people. Special attention needs to be given to interventions specific to youth opioid use and to services for young people with co-occurring issues of mental health problems and/or cognitive disabilities.
- Youth Addictions and Mental Health programs should have a more inclusive practice of involving families and significant individuals, with specific attention to substance use prevention and treatment for young people.
- There should be a review of the Protection of Children Abusing Drugs (PChAD) Act, and its policies, so the related services better meet the needs of young people and their families.
Statistics on Opioid Related Deaths of Young People Within Child Intervention Services
- Since the release of Into Focus, 22 notifications were received for opioid related deaths
- 96 per cent of these young people were under Support and Financial Assistance Agreements (SFAAs) or did not have current involvement in Child Intervention Services
- 77 per cent of young people were 18 years and older
- Demographics and child intervention status at time of passing from June 26, 2018 to March 31 2021:
- 7 males (32 per cent)
- 14 females (64 per cent)
- 1 transgender female (4 per cent)
- 12-17 years = 5 (23 per cent)
- 18+ years = 17 (77 per cent)
- Indigenous = 12 (55 per cent)
- Non-indigenous = 10 (45 per cent)
- Child intervention status
- Custody order = 1 (4 per cent)
- Previous involvement = 10 (46 per cent)
- Support and Financial Assistance Agreement = 11 (50 per cent)
Statistics Opioid Related Deaths of Young People
Total number of deaths related to accidental opioid poisoning among 0-24 year olds in Alberta from 2016-2020:
- 2016 – 64
- 2017 – 84
- 2018 – 71
- 2019 – 62
- 2020 – 95
For the first quarter of 2021, the fatalities reported are 29. If they continue at this rate, we are on track to surpass 2020 numbers.
A copy of the report: Renewed Focus: A Follow-Up Report on Youth Opioid Use in Alberta is available on there website: ocya.alberta.ca/