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Calgary woman seeking 'narrow, individual exemption' over Alberta opioid restrictions

The Calgary Courts Centre in Calgary, Alta., Monday, March 11, 2019.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh The Calgary Courts Centre in Calgary, Alta., Monday, March 11, 2019.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
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A lawyer for a Calgary woman suing the Alberta government over regulations that would prevent her from taking a potent opioid three times a day says his client needs a narrow, individual exemption.

Ophelia Black, 21, was diagnosed with severe opioid use disorder after she became dependent on the drugs as a teen.

Black's lawsuit says she currently follows a treatment regimen that allows her to effectively manage her condition with hydromorphone and prevents her from using street-sourced opioids.

But the province's new standards require service providers to refrain from prescribing opioids for at-home use unless approved by a medical director.

Her lawyer, Avnish Nanda, argued Wednesday for an emergency injunction that would allow her to continue with her prescription while the lawsuit is being decided in the courts.

“What Miss Black is seeking is simply to continue on to access her treatment … in a manner that she receives it today,” Nanda told the court.

“In order for that to occur, what she needs under the regulation is a narrow, individual exemption.”

Black is suing the Province of Alberta under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to put a halt to the new restrictions and to provide her with an exemption so she can continue to access the treatment as she did previously.

Black's statement of claim says she began using opioids to cope with childhood trauma and that she was regularly sexually, physically and mentally abused by older men preying on her vulnerable condition. As a result, she began suffering from suicidal ideation, depression and a range of other mental health issues.

Her claims have not been tested in court and no statement of defence has been filed.

Nanda said given the trauma and history his client has endured, she is unwilling to access the new treatment. He said under the new program, Black won't get the medication she needs when she needs it and will turn to street-source opioids to self-medicate.

“We're talking about harms … that include death, that include acquiring a variety of other illnesses associated with street … opioid use. We're talking about a return to a life of sexual exploitation, physical exploitation and all the harms she managed to escape during this treatment program 20 months ago,” Nanda said.

“In many respects, if this harm does befall Miss Black, she may not be here to continue on with her lawsuit.”

Black received approval to leave court during the hearing to receive an intravenous injection.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 1, 2023.

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