Red Deer is dangerously close to surpassing the 39 opioid-related deaths it saw in 2021.
The city had 39 opioid-related deaths in the first 11 months of 2022 — the same number of deaths reported for the full 12 months of 2021.
December is typically a month when there is an uptick in drug-related deaths and December 2022 statistics are not yet available in the Alberta Substance Use Surveillance System.
Deaths last year for Alberta Health Services Central Zone could also end up exceeding the 104 deaths reported in 2021. In first 11 months of 2022, the zone had 94 deaths.
Wendy Little, a member of Moms Stop The Harm in the Red Deer area, said her heart breaks for all the local families that have lost someone from substance use disorder and are living through some pretty dark times. It’s too bad photos can’t be attached to the data so Albertans can see that those who died are not just numbers.
“When people see faces it’s easier for them to remember this is a person,” Little said.
She said the rate of deaths shows that efforts to address overdose deaths in Alberta so far are just not working. People will continue to die until the province focuses on more science-based harm reduction strategies like making test strips available to check if drugs are laced with toxic substances.
“This kind of thing should become available in every gas station, every pharmacy. Just implementing that one strategy would save lives.”
She said test strips would help until there is access to a safe, prescribed drug supply so people don’t have to turn to street drugs.
“If they can’t abstain, bring in some safe options. Abstinence isn’t necessarily the thing that’s going to fix this problem.”
She said there is a reason why prohibition didn’t work and alcohol became legal.
“We know from history prohibition kills. It leads to criminal activity, it leads to toxic supply, people die, people are criminalized.”
She said she’s not advocating for places to buy drugs, but those who choose to use drugs shouldn’t be judged more than anyone who chooses alcohol.
Little said “a little glimmer of hope” are the television commercials showing everyday people reaching out for help — a mom in the kitchen, a worker in his truck — which helps Albertans realize that it’s not just a problem happening on the streets.