Red Deer had the second highest rate of fentanyl deaths among Alberta’s cities in 2017.
Red Deer’s rate was 22.6 per 100,000 population and there were 25 deaths, up from 23 deaths in 2016 when Red Deer had the highest rate at 21.0.
Grande Prairie took the top spot in 2017 with a rate of 33.8 and 26 fentanyl deaths. Calgary saw 233 deaths at a rate of 17.7. Edmonton had 135 deaths with a rate of 13.8.
Stacey Carmichael, executive director of Turning Point that hands out naloxone kits to help save people from opioid overdoses, said so far in 2018 her staff has heard of 11 drug deaths.
“We’re still on an upward trend and it’s devastating,” Carmichael said on Monday.
Alberta Health’s recently released Opioids and Substances of Misuse 2017 Q4 report found 687 people died from opioid overdoses in 2017, an average of 1.9 people a day.
Fentanyl overdose accounted for 562 of those deaths, up from 358 in 2016.
Central Alberta had 48 fentanyl deaths, up from 39 in 2016.
Included in 2017 fentanyl deaths in Central Alberta were 14 from carfentanil, a drug 10,000 times more toxic than morphine. Central Alberta had two carfentanil deaths in 2016.
In the last quarter of 2017 Central Alberta had the second highest number of carfentanil deaths at eight. Calgary had the most with 86 out of the 159 deaths across Alberta.
Carmichael worried about the rise in carfentanil deaths and rate of emergency department visits due to opioids or other substances.
At Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre 1,383 emergency room visits, or five per cent, were due to opioids or other substances between January 2014 to September 2017. Red Deer hospital had the sixth highest number of emergency visits among Alberta hospitals, and also ranked sixth with 470 hospitalizations or four per cent of stays.
She said it’s not the best use of resources, like beds, when there are other solutions like supervised consumption sites.
Turning Point has advocated for the development of a supervised drug consumption site in Red Deer. So far council has changed its bylaws to allow a mobile supervised injection site be developed, but the city has yet to put forward options.
Carmichael said in the meantime work is moving ahead on a federal exemption application to make it legal for people to bring their drugs to a supervised site. A mobile site is being included in application as well as possible permanent locations.
Turning Point has started a Facebook group — SCS Red Deer — to encourage dialogue on supervised consumption, and community discussions will be held in the coming weeks, she said.
“We really want to get rolling on this really, really bad. I had a call from local restaurant, they had someone overdose in their bathroom not long ago. We have to do better.”
She said a supervised site not only saves lives, but people don’t have to fear getting arrested or worry that someone will see them.
“That burden is lifted and that’s huge.”