Alberta saw a 29 per cent increase in drug overdose deaths in 2021, making it the deadliest year on record with 1,758 deaths, including 40 in Red Deer.
Red Deer actually had fewer drug-related deaths compared to the 49 lives lost in 2020.
But Sarah Fleck, clinical manager of Turning Point’s Overdose Prevention Site in Red Deer, said there were a significant number of overdoses in January and February 2022.
“Unfortunately our reduced rates won’t continue once the next report comes out,” Fleck said.
Alberta Health data shows that the last four months of 2021 were the deadliest months for the province, says the NDP.
“I am truly sickened to think of how many Alberta families have been plunged into grief over the past year. These deaths were preventable. There are proven health-care interventions that save lives, and the UCP is reducing access to them,” said Lori Sigurdson, NDP critic for mental health and addictions.
On Friday, the province announced that access to the Digital Overdose Response System was expanded in southern Alberta to help prevent fatal drug overdoses, particularly amongst those using at home alone. It’s an app that alerts emergency responders if a person using substances becomes unresponsive to a pre-set timer.
“Today’s announcement shows clearly that while there is no one solution to the illness of addiction, there are innovative approaches that we can expand and improve on. We are ensuring that Albertans have access to the resources they need to stay alive, access treatment no matter where they are, and begin their pursuit of recovery and a better life,” said Mike Ellis, Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions.
Fleck said 50 per cent of deaths in Red Deer occur in people’s homes. The National Overdose Response Service, which is a peer-run, peer-led overdose prevention hotline at 1-888-688-NORS, is a good option if people use alone.
She said a multifaceted approach to the crisis is needed that includes increasing access to overdose prevention sites and supervised consumption sites and critical wrap-around services, improved access to opioid agonist therapy, as well as decreased wait times and barriers for detox and treatment.
Increased community awareness about the unpredictability of the contaminated drug supply is necessary because about 60 per cent of deaths in Alberta involve methamphetamine, and 25 per cent involve cocaine.
It’s also important that anybody who uses any drug feels like they can have open conversations, she said.
“I think that only happens by having community conversation and having increased compassion towards our friends and family, our neighbours and our community members. The decrease in stigma and shame will absolutely save lives,” Fleck said.