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Opioid deaths on the rise in central Alberta

National Addictions Awareness Week
Red Deer’s overdose prevention site is operated by central Alberta’s harm reduction agency Turning Point. (Contributed)

Central Alberta saw a huge jump in opioid-related deaths in August, while Red Deer saw a slight increase, according to the latest provincial statistics.

Alberta Health Services Central Zone had eight deaths, up from two in July, and a total of 67 deaths between January and August, according to the Alberta Substance Use Surveillance System.

Red Deer had two opioid overdose deaths in August, one in July, and in the first eight months of the year there were a total of 32 deaths.

In 2021, Central Zone had 104 deaths for the entire year, and Red Deer reported 39 deaths.

In August, there were 94 opioid-related deaths in the province, compared to 92 in July.

Between January to August, Alberta has reported 976 opioid-related deaths, up from 969 during the same months in 2021.

Colin Aitchison, senior press secretary to Minister of Mental Health and Addiction Nicholas Milliken, said opioid overdose deaths in Alberta were down 45 per cent in August compared to their peak in late 2021.

“While each life lost to addiction is one too many, we are cautiously optimistic about the continued downward trend since the peak in late 2021. Our government will continue to improve access to addiction treatment and recovery supports as part of our recovery-oriented system of care to save more lives and drive deaths down further,” Aitchison said in a statement.


Red Deer reports only one opioid-related death in July

This week is National Addictions Awareness Week and Milliken said addiction is a complex health issue with no single solution to the challenges facing communities.

“That’s why we continue to build a recovery-oriented system of care that provides access to a continuum of services including prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery,” Milliken said in a statement.

He said since 2019, the province has been creating over 8,000 newly funded addiction treatment spaces and eliminated all user fees for publicly funded treatment.

“We are also building more capacity with the creation of six new recovery communities across the province to increase access to holistic, long-term residential addiction treatment.”

Red Deer’s 75-bed recovery community was nearing completion in October and will be the first to open.


Red Deer addiction recovery centre taking first clients this week

In August, Red Deer’s overdose prevention site operated by Turning Point, had 3,212 visits by 238 different community members, and staff responded to and reversed 54 suspected overdoses.

In addition to the overdose prevention site, people can access the Digital Overdose Response System, a virtual app that summons emergency services (, and the National Overdose Response System, an overdose prevention hotline, available by calling 1-888-688-6677.

The Virtual Opioid Dependency Program provides same-day access by calling 1-844-383-7688, and Red Deer has several options to access opioid agonist therapy. Safe Harbour Society operates a medical detox, Alberta Health Services provides several addictions and mental health supports, and Red Deer Dream Centre recently opened to provide residential treatment.

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Susan Zielinski

About the Author: Susan Zielinski

Susan has been with the Red Deer Advocate since 2001. Her reporting has focused on education, social and health issues.
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