EMS first responders across the province attended more opioid-related overdose calls in the last week of June than any other week over the last five-and-a-half years.
Red Deer also saw a jump in overdose calls, although not the highest number of calls for the city.
According to the Alberta Substance Use Surveillance System, EMS across Alberta responded to 339 calls the week of June 26, and 277 calls the week prior which was the second-highest number of calls.
In Red Deer, there were nine overdose calls during the last week of June, the second-highest number of calls so far this year for the city. During the week of May 1, there were 11 calls.
Curtis Schaefer, assistant deputy chief with Red Deer Emergency Services, said the rate of calls varies and the department does look for trends with the help of Alberta Health Services.
“It truly ebbs and flows. We usually see an increase in call volume for overdoses when there’s a new variation of the drugs out there,” Schaefer said.
So far this year, EMS has responded to 113 opioid-related poisoning calls in Red Deer. In 2022, EMS responded to a total of 201 calls.
As of April, Red Deer has seen 16 opioid-related deaths. Seven people died in April, and three died in each of the first three months of the year. In 2022 there were 46 deaths.
Across Alberta, 613 people died in the first quarter of 2023. Last year there were 1,510 overdose deaths.
Euan Thomson, with Each + Every: Businesses for Harm Reduction, said April was the worst month in recent years for fatal overdoses in Alberta with 179 deaths.
“Right now we’re seeing record numbers of EMS dispatches. We will see that record broken over and over again over the coming months, as well as data for mortalities,” said Thomson, of Calgary.
He said Alberta does not have a system to monitor the street drug supply and without a safe supply Alberta will never get out of this crisis. Small pilot studies offering a safe drug supply are underway in British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec which look extremely promising.
He said right now the province is hyper-focused on abstinence-based recovery, but if people are forced into abstinence who are not ready, it can be really dangerous for them.
The province opened its first residential addiction recovery community in Red Deer this year, which is a voluntary facility. It was the first of 11 recovery centres for Alberta.
But Thomson said there’s no way to evaluate the success of these treatment programs.
“We don’t know how many people will leave that centre in Red Deer and return to drug use and maybe even die, or overdose, or end up in the hospital afterwards.”
This week the province announced two recovery communities in partnership with First Nations, and Thomson worried that if Indigenous residents are forced into treatment it could be reminiscent of residential schools.