The rate of opioid-related deaths in Red Deer jumped significantly in October to surpass rates in Edmonton and Calgary, according to the latest provincial statistics.
Red Deer went from a rate of 21.4 per 100,000 people in September to 64.3 in October. Edmonton had a rate of 63.9 for October and in Calgary it was 39.3, according to the Alberta Substance Use Surveillance System.
During that month, six people died in Red Deer, 56 in Edmonton and 46 in Calgary.
Sarah Fleck, clinical manager with the harm reduction agency Turning Point that runs Red Deer’s overdose prevention site, said it is also concerning that 50 per cent of people who died in recent months died in their homes in Red Deer.
So far in December, about three deaths have been linked to people using opioids at home.
“That’s still one of our biggest current gaps, people who are not yet comfortable, or for whatever reason unable to make it to the OPS, where they could use in a way that would provide them with support and life-saving measures,” Fleck said.
During the first nine months of 2021, there were 1,065 overdoses at the overdose prevention site. Staff needed to administer naloxone 279 times, oxygen was provided 905 times, and emergency services were called 13 times.
Between Dec. 1 and 22, there were 102 overdoses at the site.
Fleck said the drug supply continues to be more potent and toxic.
In the first 10 months of the year, a total of 34 opioid-related deaths were reported in Red Deer. During that same period, 85 deaths were reported in Alberta Health Services’ Central zone.
In 2020, Red Deer had 49 opioid-related deaths and Central zone saw 118.
Mike Ellis, Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, said data shows that the fourth COVID-19 wave fuelled opioid-related fatalities.
Alberta’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner reported 146 opioid-related fatalities in September and 148 in October.
“With the onset of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, it is uncertain whether the pandemic impacts will carry into the new year. With current world events, we expect it could get worse before it gets better. We will do everything we can to ensure Albertans continue to be able to access a comprehensive system that meets people where they are at and helps them get where they need to go,” said Ellis in a statement.
He said addiction affects everyone, and Alberta is building a comprehensive recovery-oriented system of care that supports every Albertan in their pursuit of recovery. The system ranges from prevention and intervention to treatment and recovery.
“Alberta’s government has been doing everything it can to increase access to care by funding more than 8,000 annual treatment spaces, removing user fees for publicly funded addiction treatment, supporting medication-based treatment on demand and so much more. Our approach also includes providing access to services that reduce harm such as overdose prevention services, increased access to naloxone and the roll out of the Digital Overdose Response System.”
Ellis reminded Albertans that support continues to be available throughout the holiday season. Anyone struggling with opioid addiction can call the Virtual Opioid Dependency Program at 1-844-383-7688 to get treatment the same day with no wait-list.
Albertans can also call 211 any time, day or night, to get connected with addiction and mental health supports in their area.
Red Deer’s overdose prevention site is open 24 hours a day.