A government report debunks the widely held notion that Albertans dying from opioid overdoses are mostly drug-addicted homeless.
Seventy-five per cent of those who died from an opioid overdose in 2017 had a permanent address, and 62 per cent died in their own homes, according to a report released this month by Alberta Health.
Stacey Carmichael, executive director of the harm reduction agency Turning Point, said the results of the report were not surprising.
“The majority of folks are overdosing in their own home. That’s what we’ve been saying,” Carmichael said.
The opioid crisis and homelessness are two separate issues, she said.
“I can’t reinforce this enough how we’ve pigeonholed this issue to one demographic of people, which isn’t fair to anybody, and is, in fact, probably contributing to the death rate,” Carmichael said.
“This isn’t a homelessness problem. It’s an everyone problem.”
She said in the last fiscal year, 2,115 individuals accessed Turning Point’s harm reduction program.
“That in itself speaks volumes to me. Two thousand, one hundred and fifteen people are not homeless in Red Deer. It’s just time we started rethinking this. Start working towards solutions, instead of building walls and fences.”
Data in the report also showed that 74 per cent of fatal overdoses involved non-prescription opioids purchased on the street.
“This is a bigger thing than prescription drugs. That’s why you’ll often hear advocates talk about access to a safe supply.”
Carmichael said society needs to start to look at the challenge differently.
Years ago, mental illness was swept under the rug; but now, more people are talking about it. Hopefully, that same shift with happen with substance abuse, she said.
“It’s super important that people put their judgment aside. There is so much shame and misinformation about drug use and people who use drugs.”
Medical diagnoses for psychiatric conditions or chronic pain, and previous stays in provincial custody, were other common factors among people who died an opioid-related death.
“Stigma or negative views about people who use opioids can prevent them from speaking out or seeking supports or treatment. They may be more likely to use alone, overdose alone and die alone, as was the case in 66 per cent of deaths in 2017,” the report stated.