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Opioid Treatments Expand Across Central Alberta

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Officials with Alberta health Services have announced their opioid treatments are expanding across central Alberta. They have shared the following news release outlining those details.

Story by Shelley Rattray

Opioid dependency treatment has been expanded to nine communities throughout Central Alberta.

Alberta Health Services’ (AHS) Rural Opioid Dependency Program has improved access to opioid replacement therapy in Camrose, Drayton Valley, Olds, Ponoka, Rocky Mountain House, Stettler, Sylvan Lake, Wainwright and Wetaskiwin.

“Thanks to the use of video-conferencing technology we are able to provide Albertans with access to programming that normally wouldn’t be possible,” says Dr. Nathaniel Day, Medical Lead for the Rural Opioid Dependency Program.

“It can be difficult to access opioid replacement therapy outside of larger urban centres,” he adds, “however we are able to help eliminate barriers to care by providing video-conferencing sessions between physicians and patients in remote areas.”

The program began accepting patients in April and has the capacity to assist approximately 300 patients.

“Opioid dependency is a growing issue, and we are continuously is working to increase access and availability of substitution treatment,” says Dwight Hunks, Executive Director, Addiction and Mental Health, Central Zone. “This program will help Albertans receive the care they need in their own community. It will help save lives.

“One of the best approaches to treat fentanyl and other opioid addictions is substitution maintenance therapy in addition to counselling and other social support services,” adds Hunks. “This program will help Albertans receive the care they need, closer to home.”

The program was established following the Government of Alberta’s commitment to provide $3 million over three years to expand Opioid Dependency Treatment and increase access to treatment services and counselling across the province.

Since 2016, AHS has also opened a new clinic in Cardston in southwest Alberta, and a satellite clinic in Fort McMurray. More recently, an Opioid Dependency Program launched in Grande Prairie this spring.

Currently, there are now 16 clinics that treat opioid dependency across Alberta. Five of the 16 clinics are provincially funded and delivered by AHS and provide a full range of counselling and support services. A full listing of the clinics can be found on the College of Physicians and Surgeons website.

For more information about Opioid Dependency, please visit www.ahs.ca or call Health Link at 811.

Health

Tentative $161.5M settlement reached in WVa opioid trial

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By John Raby in Charleston

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Attorneys for the state of West Virginia and two remaining pharmaceutical manufacturers have reached a tentative $161.5 million settlement just as closing arguments were set to begin in a seven-week trial over the opioid epidemic, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said Wednesday.

Morrisey announced the development in court in the state’s lawsuit against Teva Pharmaceuticals Inc., AbbVie’s Allergan and their family of companies. The judge agreed to put the trial on hold to give the parties the opportunity to work out a full settlement agreement in the upcoming weeks.

“Today does represent a very big day for our state,” Morrisey said later at a news conference.

The trial started April 4. The lawsuit accused the defendants of downplaying the risks of addiction associated with opioid use while overstating the benefits.

Under the tentative deal, West Virginia would receive more than $134.5 million in cash, while Teva would supply the state with $27 million worth of Narcan, a medication that can reverse opioid overdoses, restore breathing and bring someone back to consciousness.

By reaching a settlement, “it obviously puts us in a position where we mitigate risk,” Morrisey said. “We could win if we kept going to trial. I think we would have won. No guarantees, of course. But then we might be subject to five years of appeals and then we wouldn’t see any resources for five years.”

“I want to make sure we start to put feet on the ground now. And I want to see resources targeted to this epidemic now.”

Under a plan announced by Morrisey in February, 72.5% of the settlement will go to a nonprofit foundation established to distribute money in opioid-related litigations, 24.5% would be allocated to local governments and 3% would go to the state. The foundation would consist of an 11-member board, including five state appointees and representatives from six regions of the state. The board members will have expertise in fields such as mental health, substance misuse and law enforcement.

West Virginia had reached a $99 million settlement withdrugmaker Johnson & Johnson’s subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc. last month over the drugmaker’s role in perpetuating the opioid crisis in the state that has long led the nation in drug overdose deaths.

Before the trial started, Morrisey’s office announced the state settled part of the lawsuit involving another defendant, Endo Health Solutions, for $26 million.

In separate, similar lawsuits, the state of West Virginia previously reached a $37 million settlement with McKesson Corp. in 2019, and $20 million with Cardinal Health Inc. and $16 million with AmerisourceBergen Drug Co. in 2017.

After years of lawsuits, drugmakers, distribution companies and some pharmacies have been settling cases over the toll of opioids.

In deals finalized this year, the three biggest distribution companies and drugmaker Johnson & Johnson agreed to settlements totaling $26 billion over time. OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma is in court trying to win approval for a national settlement including up to $6 billion in cash, plus using future profits from a remade version of the company to fight the opioid crisis.

In other settlements this year, the distributors have agreed to pay Washington state, which did not participate in the national settlement with them, more than $500 million, and a group of companies are sending $276 million to Alabama.

In all, proposed and finalized settlements, judgements and criminal penalties over opioids have reached more than $47 billion since 2007. Much of the money is to be used only to address the crisis, which has been linked to the deaths of more than 500,000 Americans in the last two decades. A relatively small portion of the settlement money – at least $750 million in the Purdue deal – is to be paid to individual victims and their survivors.

In Charleston, a separate bench trial wrapped up last summer in a federal lawsuit accusing AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson of fueling the opioid crisis in Cabell County and the city of Huntington. That judge has not indicated when he will rule.

___

Associated Press writer Geoff Mulvihill contributed to this report.

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Alberta

Alberta reporting two probable cases of mystery liver disease in patients under 16

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By Daniela Germano in Edmonton

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health says there are two probable cases of severe acute hepatitis of unknown origin in children in the province.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw says both children are under 16.

She says one of the patients was treated, discharged from hospital and is doing well.

Hinshaw says the other patient remains in hospital.

She says she cannot provide more details due to patient confidentiality.

Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children said Tuesday it had identified seven probable cases of the liver disease.

The hospital, also known as SickKids, said the mysterious cases were identified between Oct. 1, 2021, and April 30, 2022, and reported to Public Health Ontario.

SickKids said it remains to be seen whether that number is an increase in cases of unknown origin compared with similar periods in previous years, or if any of the cases will be confirmed to have a new cause.

Manitoba also said a probable case was reported in that province in recent weeks.

Hinshaw said Alberta shared information late last week with clinicians on what to look for and how to report severe acute hepatitis of unknown cause in children.

The province has been working closely with federal, provincial and territorial officials to monitor emerging information, she said.

“We’ve also been working to align our reporting criteria with the other provinces and territories — in this case the current World Health Organization and Public Health Agency of Canada definitions,” she said at a news conference.

“This will allow us to consistently report case information to the federal government and help contribute to the global body of work to understand more about this condition.”

The definition for possible cases is broad, Hinshaw said, as any child with severe liver inflammation with unknown cause is being counted.

“I’d like to make it clear to parents that this reporting does not necessarily mean that there is an elevated risk in the community or that you should take different steps if your children are sick.”

The World Health Organization said last week it had reports of almost 300 probable cases in 20 countries. More than 100 possible cases have emerged among children in the United States, including five deaths.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said this week that even before the pandemic, about half of all pediatric hepatitis cases that are severe would have no known cause.

Federal health officials are still investigating whether any of these cases are linked in any way, she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 11, 2022.

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