New numbers reveal fentanyl fatalities continue to rise in Alberta

Fentanyl pills are shown in an undated police handout photo. ALERT

EDMONTON — From January 1, 2015 to September 30, 2015, 213 Albertans have died due to fentanyl overdoses.

Alberta Health Services released its updated fentanyl data this week. Of the 213 deaths in the first nine months of the year, 55 occurred in the Edmonton Zone, 74 were in the Calgary Zone, 29 were in the Central Zone, 46 were in the North Zone and nine were in the South Zone.

While the largest number of deaths are occurring in the bigger cities, Edmonton and Calgary, AHS said the highest rate of fentayl usage and deaths are being seen in southern parts of the province.

“We continue to work really hard to ensure that message gets out and encourage people to make sure they never use alone, to test small amounts of their drug before trying a larger amount,” said Dr. Joanna Oda, a medical officer of health with AHS in the Edmonton Zone.

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About 100 times more potent than morphine and 20 times more powerful than OxyContin, fentanyl is a synthetic opiate narcotic primarily prescribed to those with chronic pain. It’s known on the street as green beans, green jellies or street Oxy, and can often show up in other drugs.

Effective immediately, the province is making 2,000 more fentanyl antidote kits available. The kits contain the drug naloxone, which works by competing with fentanyl for the same opiate receptors in the body, decreasing the potency of the drug.

The province said the additional doses will help ensure that Albertans at risk of dying of any overdose will have access to the antidote.

“This does not make it safe it any way to use fentanyl or any other opioid, but it does create a last-minute opportunity to have that last hope to be able to revive somebody when they have overdosed,” Health Minister Sarah Hoffman said.

The province has already distributed 3,000 kits in Alberta this year.

“It’s so important that if someone is experiencing an overdose-so if you can’t wake them up, if they’re breathing funny, if their lips are turning blue-it’s very important to call 911,” Oda said.

AHS said while it sees fentanyl usage in a wide range of ages, the majority of are between 19 to 35.

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In Edmonton, paramedics are able to carry and administer the antidotes. There are some areas of the province, however, where that is not the case. AHS said it is working with its partners to try to change that.

In 2014, there were 120 fentanyl-related deaths in Alberta.

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