Deleted tweet about big pharma by associate minister for addictions 'laughably absurd,' says scientist

A now-deleted tweet by Jason Luan wondering if the research supporting supervised consumption sites was funded by big pharma, has some questioning his qualifications as Alberta's associate minister for mental health and addictions.

The tweet read, in part, "How much of the so called 'evidence-based research' is funded by the multi billion dollar Pharma industry?" before it was deleted.

@jasonluan88/Twitter

A research scientist at the B.C. Centre on Substance Use and assistant professor in the University of British Columbia's department of medicine called the tweet "laughably absurd."

"It's the kind of statement that makes it clear that he is either not engaging with the evidence in good faith or is ill-equipped to actually evaluate the evidence," Ryan McNeil told CBC News Wednesday.

"Either of those things should be disqualifying from his position as the associate minister of mental health and addictions."

'Meant to sow skepticism'

McNeil says the evidence supporting supervised consumption sites is robust.

"It is effectively disingenuous, it is a dodge and it is meant to sow skepticism about the evidence on harm reduction when frankly there shouldn't be any," McNeil said.

"The research is absolutely unequivocal that supervised consumption sites save lives. To raise the spectre of pharmaceutical company interference in this is laughably absurd especially in the middle of a crisis but there is also no logic to a statement like that."

Luan was appointed to the position in April because "his extensive experience in working with those suffering from addiction makes him uniquely positioned to handle the key commitment to address the opioid epidemic in Alberta," according to his government bio.

@rs_mcneil/Twitter

'Not a solution' Luan tells columnist

Beyond the tweet, Luan expanded his thoughts on supervised consumption sites to a Calgary Sun columnist.

"They just keep talking about keeping you alive, reviving you from an overdose. Then we'll do it again tomorrow and we'll do it 10 times the day after tomorrow," Luan said, according to Rick Bell.

"To me, that's not the solution. You're not addressing the real issue."

Luan's spokesperson said the associate minister's comments were misunderstood.

"He didn't intend to judge specific research studies or show disrespect to any researcher," Steve Buick wrote in an emailed response to CBC News.

"Now some people are asking if the minister's tweet signals a general opposition to harm reduction or a decision to de-fund existing [supervised consumption sites]. The answer is no."

'Puzzled by the comment'

Luan's comments have a national advocate for people with addictions scratching her head.

"I was really puzzled by the comment," Petra Schulz said.

"Anything that I have read has been in a reputable, medical, peer-reviewed journal written by university researchers and health and policy experts, so I don't know where that concern would come from."

Edmonton-based Schulz co-founded Moms Stop the Harm in 2016. She lost her 25-year-old son Danny to an accidental fentanyl overdose five years ago.

Submitted by Ryan McNeil

"I don't understand why they are being reviewed in the first place because there is so much good evidence that supports the effectiveness of supervised consumption services," Schulz said.

"If we make abstinence-based treatments the gold standard we are stigmatizing all the other forms of treatment that have shown to be much more effective."

'Demands an ability to review evidence impartially'

The Opposition is calling for an apology.

"The role minister Luan has been appointed to demands an ability to review evidence impartially. Has he actually reviewed this work or met with any of the researchers?" said NDP MLA for Edmonton-Manning Heather Sweet in a statement.

Spokesperson Buick says Luan remains open to the review results, despite the deleted tweet.

"The minister is not 'sending a signal,' he's just saying we won't pre-judge the review," Buick wrote.

"Yes, we may make changes based on the findings; that's the point of a review. But are we signalling any decision to de-fund them? No."

'We are in the middle of a crisis'

Meanwhile, McNeil says the timing is bad.

"We are in the middle of a crisis. People in decision-making capacity have to engage with the evidence in good faith and it's clear based on this and other statements he has made that that is not happening," he said.

"All he would have to do is look at the funding acknowledgement section of every single paper that has been published on this to find out who funds it."