With 17 deaths reported so far this year, Red Deer has already lost as many lives to fentanyl-related overdoses as it did for all of 2019.
The alarming statistic is included in the second-quarter COVID-19 Opioid Response Surveillance Report that showed 449 Albertans died from opioids in the first six months of 2020. Deaths doubled from 148 in the first quarter to 301 in the second.
Stacey Carmichael, executive director of Turning Point, which runs Red Deer’s overdose prevention site, said it was the worse quarter since the province started tracking overdose data in 2016.
“Every day people are dying a preventable death — three Albertans every day,” Carmichael said.
“They all have families. They all have people who love them.”
The latest report shows Red Deer had nine fentanyl deaths between April and June, up from eight deaths in the first three months of 2020.
The 17 deaths meant Red Deer had second highest per capita fatality rate at 30.8 per 100,000 people for the first six months of the year.
Lethbridge had the highest rate at 42.4 per 100,000 people and 21 deaths. Grande Prairie had the third highest rate at 26.5 and 10 deaths, followed by Edmonton at a rate of 26 with 135 deaths, and Calgary at a rate of 21.4 with 148 deaths.
Carmichael said COVID-19 played a role in fatalities by reducing capacity at the overdose prevention site, so clients made fewer visits.
“There’s so many things that COVID has done, particularly to folks who have a variety of vulnerabilities, including substance use disorders.
“(COVID-19) impacted the drug supply that was already toxic and contaminated. It just made it that much worse.”
In July, the province announced Red Deer would be the site of the first of five new addiction recovery communities.
The new $5-million, 75-bed facility will likely be built in the city’s north end, outside the primary urban centre.
At the time, the city said the deal to acquire land for the project would be finalized within about two weeks, but details have yet to be released by the city or the province.
Government hoped to have shovels in the ground before winter.
Carmichael said she applauds the investment in mental health and addictions, but said the community needs to make sure people have access to the services they need within the whole continuum of support.
“For some people with opioid use disorder, that means a safe, prescribed source of opioids, and we’re not ramping that up provincially, which is a shame.
“A lot of investment is in short-term, residential treatment spaces, and that is not the most effective for opioid use disorder. It can actually increase the rates of overdose deaths.”