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UPDATED: Red Deer’s rate of fentanyl fatalities worst in province

Eight deaths in first quarter of 2020

Red Deer once again has the highest fatality rate due to fentanyl in the province.

The city recorder eight fentanyl-related deaths, with a per capita rate of 28.9 per 100,000, in the first quarter of 2020, according to statistics.

“We’re very disappointed to have the highest rate in the province again. It’s tragic, and hopefully, we can get back on track,” said Stacey Carmichael, executive director of the harm reduction agency Turning Point, which runs Red Deer’s overdose prevention site.

In 2016 and 2018, Red Deer had the highest fatality rate, with 23 and 46 deaths, respectively.

So far this year, Lethbridge has the second-highest municipal fatality rate at 24.2, with six fentanyl-related deaths.

Edmonton’s rate is 16.2, with 42 deaths. The rate in Calgary is 13.9, with 48 deaths.

A total of 127 fentanyl-related deaths were reported in the province, compared to 105 in the previous quarter.

Carmichael said the spike in Red Deer’s fentanyl fatalities could be “as simple and tragic as a bad batch of drugs,” or maybe it was because of reduced access to the overdose prevention site in mid-March due to COVID-19 restrictions.

It’s also possible that deaths at the end of March were not confirmed, and included in the January to March report, so fatalities may be even higher, she said.

“The next quarterly report will be very telling. We’ll really see how COVID has impacted the (opioid) crisis. I think we’ll be disheartened.”

The overdose prevention site, with four injection booths where people can safely use previously obtained drugs, reported 15,432 visits between January and March. That’s up 15 per cent from the last quarter of 2019.

Carmichael said prior to COVID, there were upwards of 175 visits a day to the site, which dropped to under 100 during COVID. The site was back operating at full capacity late last week.


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Dr. Nathaniel Day, program director of the provincial Virtual Opioid Dependency Program, said fentanyl-related deaths in Red Deer dropped to 17 in 2019 after 46 deaths in 2018, so it’s concerning to already have eight deaths in 2020.

“Any death is a death too many. These are people’s brothers and sisters, sons, daughters, mothers, fathers,” Day said.

He said anyone struggling with fentanyl use should know that the Virtual Opioid Dependency Program is available to help.

“There are safe and effective treatments. There are supports. We are open through COVID. We’ve been busier than ever.”

Across central Alberta, the rate of fentanyl deaths has also climbed since 2019. Alberta Health Services’ central zone, which includes Red Deer, had 15 deaths and a rate of 12.4.

For information, call the Virtual Opioid Dependency Program toll-free at 1-844-383-7688, or call the AHS addiction help line at 866-332-2322.

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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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