'We can help people who are in need': Edmonton businesses adopt harm reduction effort amid Alberta's opioid crisis


Article content

With the number of opioid overdoses swelling across Edmonton, Darren McGeown felt he had a responsibility as a business owner to ensure he was trained to provide the lifesaving drug Naloxone to anyone in need.

“We can’t just completely rely on our city and our government to take care of all these issues,” the owner of Edmonton’s Arcadia Brewery said. “I’m not saying every business has to do it. As a business, you have a voice, no matter how small it is, to bring awareness to it.”

McGeown is now among hundreds of businesses in Alberta and across the country taking part in a grassroots harm reduction initiative called Each + Every, an effort to address the growing opioid crisis. Naloxone is a drug that temporarily reverses the effects of an opioid overdose and kits are provided for free by the province.

McGeown said he completed his training about a month ago and can now administer the drug, though he hasn’t had to so far. He was moved to take a pre-emptive approach in case the need should ever arise.


Story continues below

Article content

“I worked with Boyle Street for a long time and I feel if we can work together we can create a better community and society,” he said. “We can help people who are in need.”

Overdose deaths nearly doubled in the Edmonton Zone last year with 485, up from 267 in 2019.

A child and youth advocate report released this week showed a record-setting 95 young people under the age of 25 died from accidental opioid poisoning in 2020, up from the previous high of 85 deaths in 2017. There have been 22 such deaths reported in the first two months of this year alone, prompting the province’s child advocate, Del Graff, to warn that this may be the highest year ever for opioid deaths of Alberta’s young people. He is calling for some sort of commission to struck so youth will have a strategy to exit the potentially deadly opioid path.

Matt Phillips, Edmonton owner of Northern Chicken, is also vocal about harm reduction and, so far, has four of his staff trained to administer Naloxone. Thankfully, he said, there have been no recent cases but there was one overdose incident when he first opened his business more than four years ago.

Phillips said there should be at least one person on staff trained on how to administer Naloxone — but the responsibility of care should ultimately rest with the province.

“More focus needs to be put around harm reduction and less around a war on drugs and criminalizing these users,” he said. “Working towards the root cause of why people are using and then making sure that we are taking better care of them.”


Story continues below

Article content

Euan Thomson, the owner of Raft Brew Labs in Calgary and co-founder of Each + Every, said the initiative formally launched in the spring after a few startup companies saw an opportunity to bring awareness to the issue. He said the province keeps pointing to businesses as being the ones who don’t wish to have harm reduction services around, which he believes is false.

“We’ve got 20 members in Edmonton and 50 off members in Calgary. We’ve also got rural and non-urban members. We got member businesses in 12 municipalities across Alberta. There are not too many municipalities that are not represented at this point,” adding that there is no cost to businesses who want to join the initiative.

Thomson would like the province to consult with groups like his Each + Every, to better get a grasp on what’s happening on the ground.

“It would probably serve them well to start listening because this crisis isn’t going away. It’s not going to be solved through adding treatment beds.”

Alberta Health statistics suggest 80 per cent of people poisoned by opioids are dying at home, often in the suburbs alone. The provincial government recently dropped fees for treatment beds and committed to funding 4,000 more spaces a year before the next election.



Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.