Red Deer lost 56 lives to overdoses in 2020, more than double the deaths in 2019, according to the Alberta Substance Use Surveillance System.
Red Deer saw a 57 per cent increase from the 24 deaths in 2019.
“I just want people to recognize the 56 deaths we had in Red Deer have all been somebody who’s been loved and cared about and valued by people in the community,” said Sarah Fleck, clinical manager with Turning Point.
“These lives lost have as much value as any life lost.”
Across Central zone, fatal overdoses increased 43 per cent, from 74 deaths in 2019 to 128 last year.
The March 2021 update also showed Central zone had the second highest rate of drug poisonings last year at 32.3 per 100,000 people. The South zone had a slightly higher rate at 32.8.
Fleck said staff at Red Deer’s overdose prevention site reversed 1,190 overdoses last year, more than any other overdose prevention site, or supervised consumption site in Alberta, which points to the crisis in the city.
“People are accessing the OPS. We just need more resources, and more space, and more supports for people living with substance use.”
She said the decrease in community supports due to the pandemic is one of the problems, in addition to the change in the drug supply. If people haven’t been able to get opiates for a while and their tolerance decreases, the chance of a fatal overdose is much greater if the drugs they finally access are more potent.
Financial support to service providers, and to clients to access opiate replacement therapy, could make a difference for people struggling with addiction right now, she said.
The six-month extension given to Red Deer’s temporary overdose prevention site runs out at the end of March and there has been no word from the province about future funding.
“I know that the services we’re providing is invaluable and I am confident the province can recognize the work that we’re doing and continue to fund us, but we don’t have anything official.”
Fleck said Turning Point remains optimistic because of the site’s impact, like diverting people from hospital during the pandemic, in addition to saving lives.
“We’re providing an invaluable service to the community and not just to the people who use drugs.”