Jason Luan, the Face of Mental Health and Addictions Cuts

There’s an interesting debate being sparked in Alberta over safe consumption sites. That debate isn’t about whether we should have them or not. It isn’t about whether they’re helpful or harmful. The debate we are currently having is which lives matter.

Prior to the 2019 election, many were saying that the UCP would cut services. The UCP said they would also cut taxes. For a province that had been spending an average of $8 billion more per year than they were bringing in, there was no room to cut revenue. But they did anyway.

During the first session of the legislature under a Kenney government, the UCP cut almost $2 billion in revenue. Removal of the carbon tax, a drop in corporate tax rates and a further tax break especially for rural natural gas companies.

So we knew they had to cut programs and services as well and we’re beginning to see which ones are on the chopping block.

Jason Luan, the Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions sat down with the Calgary SUN’s Rick Bell early this week. He says if people are going to die without you holding their hand then it’s not really worth it to try. I’m paraphrasing of course. According to the article, Luan said

“Your real saving-lives story isn’t you keep them alive by feeding the disease and not addressing it. Yes, you can keep them alive one more day but you’re not going to save them. They’re going to die the minute you’re not with them.”

He didn’t stop there. On Tuesday evening, Luan sent out a tweet that offered some further insight to his stance on safe consumption sites. The tweet was deleted rather quickly when it was picked up by 630 CHED host Ryan Jespersen.

Photo Credit: @frazzling

Luan, the Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, complaining that the studies only consider the impact of safe consumption sites on the health of the user? And the reference to a conspiracy theory involving “big Pharma”? No wonder he didn’t want to leave that up. Most telling, however, may be the implication that the impact of these sites needs to provide better focus on the businesses surrounding them.

As of today, funding for new safe consumption sites has been frozen while the UCP reviews whether “they’re operating in accord with the best evidence to ensure they’re saving lives is out there including wraparound services to offer appropriate treatment — and most importantly, that they’re acceptable to the communities…” said Health Minister Tyler Shandro.

Reviews are good (for everything but oil royalties) but the UCP government is also putting the brakes on recovery beds; as in those beds available for people who have decided to take the initiative to stop using and are looking for space under the care of health professionals. So when Luan says they’re more concerned with recovery, that isn’t quite true either.

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly where the issue lies. The Associate Minister seems more concerned with public opinion and economics than either the Mental Health or Addictions part of his title. Which is not to say that considering the economics of any decision is wrong; economics is a sound argument of many pro-choice advocates. However, the economics of safe consumption sites demonstrate reduced costs to the public.

Between sharing or reusing needles, ambulance costs, hospital stays, treatment for blood-borne diseases, long-term effects of those diseases – safe consumption sites reduce the costs to the healthcare system.

The economics Jason Luan, Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, seems to be worried about are those of businesses in the vicinity of such sites. Which, again, is deserving of consideration, but Minister Luan’s number one priority should be seeking to make decisions that positively affect those under the purview of his “Ministry”. Unless it’s just a title and some extra cash to act as a human shield for the Party leader who needs both hands to hold his pen.

This article contains both fact and opinion.

Deirdre Mitchell-MacLean

contact: [email protected]

Twitter: @Mitchell_AB for all the commentary, @thisweekinAB for posts