Alberta’s opioid crisis is showing no signs of abating, as new numbers released by the province Monday morning show a 40 per cent increase in opioid-related deaths so far this year over last.
In the first nine months of 2017, 482 Albertans died as a result of opioid-related overdoses, which translates to nearly two deaths per day. During the same time last year, 346 people died.
“I think the numbers really point to the severity of the crisis and show us that there’s more work to be done to help make sure that we’re able to save more lives,” Associate Minister of Health Brandy Payne said Monday.
“There’s clearly more work to be done.”
The province said 81 per cent of the deaths so far this year have happened in larger cities, including Edmonton, Calgary, Red Deer and Fort McMurray.
Between July and September 2017, there were 143 overdose deaths related to fentanyl in Alberta. That’s compared to 87 fentanyl-related deaths in the same time last year.
The Edmonton and Calgary areas had the highest number of fentanyl deaths between July and September this year, with 39 and 68 respectively.
Payne said the government has increased access to treatment for drug users across the province, pointing to recently opened supervised consumption services in communities across Alberta.
She said the province is also working with physicians in order to avoid over-prescribing opioids.
“An important piece of the puzzle is making sure that when someone receives an opioid prescription for pain management, that there’s a conversation with that patient about the potential addictive-nature of the drugs, as well as what can be done if someone is starting to have challenges.”
And while Payne said law enforcement agencies in Alberta are doing a good job of breaking up distribution rings and finding drug-production sites, access to health-care supports is also important.
“When I speak to our partners in law enforcement, I hear time and again that we’re not going to be able to enforce our way out of this problem,” she said.
“Ultimately, we have to address the demand side for illicit drugs and we’re going to be able to do that by expansion for treatment, as well as offering those mental health supports that people need.”
In 2016, 343 Albertans died of a fentanyl-related drug overdose, according to Alberta Health.
The full Alberta Health report can be read below.