File photo by ADVOCATE staff Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre has seen a higher hospitalization rate for opioid poisonings.

Hospitalizations jump in Red Deer due to opioid poisonings

Small city hospitals impacted more by opioid crisis

Hospitalizations for opioid poisonings were more than double the rate in smaller communities such as Red Deer than in Canada’s largest cities, according to a new report from the Canadian Institute for Health Information.

The report — Opioid-Related Harms in Canada — showed rates of hospitalizations in 2017 were highest in communities with a population between 50,000 and 99,999. Red Deer had the 15th highest rate at 30.9 per 100,000 population.

In Calgary, the rate was 17.8, and in Edmonton, it was 18.5.

Rates of emergency department visits for opioid poisonings climbed 23 per cent in Alberta in 2017, and Red Deer had the 12th highest rate of emergency visits among small cities.

Mayor Tara Veer said pressures on the local emergency department are significantly affected by the addictions crisis, and so is ambulance service.

“When ambulances are tied up at emergency, and then not flexing throughout the community and available to other calls coming into 911, it certainly is a health issue in general, but also for the safety and access to services for all Red Deerians,” Veer said.

The addictions crisis also plays a role in the need to expand Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre, she said.

Right now, the province is focusing on harm reduction, but city council also wants the province to look at prevention, intervention, enforcement and community safety.

Residents have consistently asked for residential treatment, but in September, Health Minister Sarah Hoffman made it clear the province has no intention of investing in residential treatment in Red Deer and region, Veer said.

“We would like to see a balance of integration of different approaches, so that there are services that citizens can access and make choices for themselves and their loved ones,” Veer said.

The Canadian Institute for Health Information said an estimated 3,996 Canadians died in 2017 because of opioid overdoses and hospitalization rates were up eight per cent from the previous year.

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