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Alberta smartphone app intends to reduce overdose deaths in drug users at home


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By Bill Graveland in Calgary

The Alberta government has expanded a smartphone app aimed at preventing overdoses in people using drugs alone at home.

Mike Ellis, associate minister of mental health and addictions, said Wednesday the app is confidential, free and available across the province, including in rural and First Nations communities.

The app alerts emergency responders if a person using substances has signed in and becomes unresponsive to a pre-set timer.

“If a person doesn’t respond to the alarm they will get a call from the fine folks right here at STARS. If an emergency response is required, STARS will contact EMS to dispatch an ambulance to the person’s location,” Ellis said at the STARS emergency link centre in Calgary.

“We know sadly that about 70-per cent of opioid-related deaths happen in private residences, often alone. The reality of addiction is that it drives people into isolation and when using opioids this can be extremely dangerous.”

Alberta recorded its deadliest year on record for drug overdoses in 2021 with more than 1,700 deaths.

The app was introduced last summer, but was only available in Edmonton, Calgary and surrounding areas. It’s similar to British Columbia’s Lifeguard app.

Ellis said so far the app has been downloaded 900 times with 440 registered users. He said there have been numerous successful medical deployments.

Ellis didn’t provide any details.

Darren Sandbeck, senior provincial director and chief paramedic, Alberta Health Services, said it’s another tool to help people in trouble.

“We in EMS see the impacts of the opioid crisis every day and we support this app as another means of supporting individuals who use opioids,” he said.

“If, while you were using alone, this app will be your buddy, the one who can call for you when you or someone else cannot call 911 for help.”

Mike Lamacchia, the chief operating officer of STARS Air Ambulance, said when it comes to overdoses, time is of the essence. He said the app gives them the ability to get to people sooner.

“Sometimes when emergency responses happen to a drug-related call at a private residence it can be too late,” he said. “This expansion means simply that we can help more people.”

Earl Thiessen, the executive director of the Oxford House Foundation, which helps people in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, said he supports the application and has personal knowledge of the consequences of opioid addiction.

“We are raising my sister’s children after her fatal overdose while using alone in suburban Calgary. I would have insisted she used the Digital Overdose Response System when she used alone,” said Thiessen.

Harm reduction advocates, including the national group Moms Stop the Harm, questioned the app when it was brought in last year.

The United Conservative Party government has been focused on recovery care and has been criticized for limiting access to supervised consumption sites and injectable opioid agonist therapy.

Lori Sigurdson, NDP critic for mental health and addictions, said the app is a useful tool, but does not do enough to address the horrifying death toll due to drug poisonings in the province.

“The UCP government is refusing to act on clear medical evidence and practices supported by experts. There are proven health care interventions that save lives, but the UCP have reduced access to them,” she said in a release.

“The UCP failure to properly respond to this crisis is costing lives, costing taxpayers, and using up already scarce resources in our ambulance and hospital systems.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 8, 2022.

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Judge sides with Enbridge Inc. in Michigan’s latest effort to halt Line 5 pipeline

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A judge in Michigan has ruled in favour of Enbridge Inc. in the company’s long-running dispute with the state over the Line 5 cross-border pipeline.

In her ruling, Judge Janet Neff says the case belongs in federal court — a blow to Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s bid to shut down the pipeline.

It’s the second time in nine months that Neff has sided with Enbridge on the question of jurisdiction.

Whitmer has been trying since November 2020 to shut down Line 5 for fear of a spill in the Straits of Mackinac, where the pipeline crosses the Great Lakes.

Proponents, including Canada’s federal government, call Line 5 a vital and indispensable source of energy for Ontario, Quebec and several Midwestern states.

Environmental activists fear an anchor strike or technical failure could trigger a catastrophe in one of the area’s most important watersheds.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 18, 2022.

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Reports: Flames closing in on signing UFA forward Nazem Kadri

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The Calgary Flames are closing in on a deal to sign unrestricted free agent Nazem Kadri, according to multiple media reports.

Sportsnet reported the deal is for seven years at US$7 million per season.

The Flames, according to Sportsnet and TSN, are moving forward Sean Monahan to the Montreal Canadiens to create salary cap space for Kadri’s contract. Details of that trade have not been released.

The 32-year-old Kadri was one of the biggest names available in free agency after an All-Star season with Colorado that ended with the Avalanche winning the Stanley Cup.

Kadri had 87 points (28 goals, 59 assists) in 71 games for the Avalanche in 2021-22.

He added 15 points (seven goals, eight assists) in 16 playoff games, including the overtime winner in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final against Tampa Bay. That was his return to action after being injured in Game 3 of the Western Conference final after being hit from behind by Edmonton forward Evander Kane.

Kadri’s signing would be the latest chapter of a chaotic off-season for the Flames.

Calgary lost leading scorer and Hart Trophy candidate Johnny Gaudreau to the Columbus Blue Jackets early in free agency, then was informed that star forward Matt Tkachuk would not sign a contract extension after the upcoming season.

The Flames dealt Tkachuk to Florida for a package that included forward Jonathan Huberdeau, who had 115 points last season, and defenceman Mackenzie Weegar.

The Flames then locked up Huberdeau long-term with an eight-year, US$84-million contract extension.

Monahan, selected sixth overall by the Flames in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, has played nine seasons in Calgary. The three-time 30-goal scorer tallied just eight goals and 15 assists for 23 points in 65 games last season.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 18, 222.

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