Judge grants woman interim injunction for exemption from Alberta opioid restrictions

CALGARY — A Calgary woman says she can finally look forward to the future after a judge granted an interim injunction Thursday that allows her to continue taking a potent opioid three times a day.

Ophelia Black, 22, was diagnosed with severe opioid use disorder after she became dependent on the drug as a teen.

She had asked for an exemption until the resolution of her lawsuitagainst the Alberta government over new standards that require service providers to refrain from prescribing opioids for at-home use unless approved by a medical director.

Black's lawsuit says she currently follows a treatment regimen that allows her to effectively manage her condition with hydromorphone instead of using street-sourced opioids, such as fentanyl. She picks up the drugs at a pharmacy, crushes and injects them.

"Ophelia Black is addicted to opioids. Her addiction has nearly killed her several times. I am satisfied that this is an appropriate case in which to grant an interim injunction," said Court of King's Bench Justice Colin Feasby in his ruling.

"The evidence at this stage of the litigation shows that Miss Black has a strong position that her constitutional rights have been infringed, that she would suffer irreparable harm and it is clear that the balance of convenience weighs in her favour."

Black said in a statement that she felt like a vice was closing over her stomach after she learned about the government changes. Now that feeling is gone.

"Being unable to access my medication would have been a death sentence. I am so relieved that I can continue to access my treatment without sacrificing the time and freedom to live a full life and without having to make terrible choices," she said.

"I do not want to die and I will forever appreciate what was done today. Now that access to my prescription feels more secure, I'm looking forward to the future, researching university options and continuing to build a life for myself."

The judge said the injunction will remain in effect until Black's lawsuit over Alberta's new standards is resolved in court. He directed that the woman's service providers be allowed to provide her with the treatment she requires.

"It merely permits her service providers to treat her in the interim period without the limitations imposed by the regulations, standards and policies," Feasby said.

Black is suing the province 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.

Her 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 other mental health issues.

Black's claims have not been tested in court and no statement of defence has been filed.

Alberta government lawyer Nate Gartke had argued that other options are available for Black and that she is making an active decision not to take the government treatment even though it's safer.

"I think it's largely a devil you know than the devil you don't situation," Gartke said in courtWednesday.

"It's probably safer to crash and inject something you know than crashing and injecting something that is unknown."

Gartke said Alberta Health Services is willing to help Black gain access to other treatments.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 2, 2023.

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press