Naloxone kits to counteract opioid overdose are routinely handed out to drug users in Red Deer. (File photo by JEFF STOKOE/Advocate staff)

Fentanyl proves deadly for Red Deer

Four overdose deaths so far this month

The rate of fentanyl deaths in Red Deer exceeded other Alberta cities in 2016, according to the latest report from Alberta Health.

Red Deer had highest rate at 21 per cent per 100,000 people and saw 23 fentanyl-related overdose deaths.

Grande Prairie had the second highest rate at 13.4 per cent and 10 deaths. Calgary followed with a rate 11.5 and 152 deaths.

Red Deer also had the highest rate of overdose deaths from opioids other than fentanyl in 2016 at 11 per cent and 12 deaths. AHS Central Zone had the highest rate at 6.7 per cent and 32 deaths. The provincial rate was 4.6.

Sarah Fleck, interim operational manager at Turning Point, said so far in May her agency has heard of four fatal overdoses. In April they heard of three.

“It’s a really disheartening report. But the reality is we’ve been feeling the impact as an agency and our clients have substantially been affected as the death toll increases. We’re dealing with grief,” Fleck said.

She said it’s good that data in the report is now broken down for cities, but Red Deer’s rate wasn’t a shock because of the stories, experiences and frustrations staff hear every day.

“We’re a biggish city, but we’re not as big as Calgary or Edmonton so our access to treatment, our access to supportive opiate replacement therapy is not even close to where it should be. Because of those gaps in service, and the lack of streamlined service for people who are using opiates everyday, that number didn’t surprise me.”

She said people need increased access to fentanyl replacement therapy drugs methadone and suboxone.

“What we need are more physicians willing to prescribe clients with opiate addiction, but also better support for physicians because it’s very time consuming for them.”

Turning Point is also waiting to hear if it will continue to receive provincial funding to distribute naloxone kits. Funding ends May 31.

“We have dispensed over 2,700 kits since July 2015. We know we’re only one of 24 sites in Red Deer but the bulk of naloxone is going out of our office. People are hesitant to access community pharmacies and other registered sites for a variety of reasons.”

Since July 2015 Turning Point clients have reported 580 overdose reversals thanks to naloxone, a drug that can temporarily reverse opioid overdose to give people time to seek medical treatment.

Fleck said her agency is encouraging anyone who uses drugs of any kind to carry naloxone. Opiates, particularly fentanyl, can be found in a variety of street drugs including stimulants like crystal meth and cocaine.

According to the provincial report, fentanyl and opioid overdose deaths in 2016 made up 68 per cent of all drug overdose deaths.

In the first quarter of 2017 a total of 113 people died from apparent fentanyl-related drug overdoses in Alberta. In Central Zone there were seven deaths including five in Red Deer.

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