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Record number of Alberta opioid deaths in 2018 taking its toll on Calgary firefighters​

WATCH: The latest numbers from Alberta Health show that more people died last year from opioid overdoses than the previous year. As Carolyn Kury de Castillo reports, that marks the largest number of fatalities since the crisis started.

It has become a routine call for first responders across Alberta: opioid overdoses requiring the use of naloxone kits.

“The crews are very proud to do the job,” said Mike Henson, president of the Calgary Firefighters Association, in a January interview with Global News.

“It’s satisfying to know that you can bring somebody back and give them another chance at living their life.”

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READ MORE: For more than five years he was addicted to opioids. This is one man’s story of recovery

He knows what it’s like to save someone’s life, administering naloxone to block the effects of opioids.

“It takes a toll on our members though,” Henson said. “The accumulative effect of doing these types of calls takes an effect of mental stress and physical stress — not just on firefighters but on the paramedics and the nurses and the doctors, these type of calls take a toll. It’s hard to repeatedly see people in this state and what this drug has done to them.”

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A March 2019 report from Alberta Health showed that 746 people died from opioid overdoes in 2018 — that’s a six per cent increase from 2017, making it a record number of opioid-related deaths in Alberta.

“It’s seeing what people have done to themselves and what the opioid overdose crisis is doing to people,” Henson said. “It’s not just any one walk of life. There’s no one piece of society that isn’t affected by this.”

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There is a positive trend in the numbers though: 159 people died from accidental fentanyl poisoning in the last three months of 2018 compared to 180 in the previous quarter.

There have been significant jumps in the number of people going to Calgary and Edmonton supervised consumption sites. In the last quarter of 2018, there were nearly 4,000 visits to Edmonton sites and 6,000 to Calgary’s. Compared to the previous quarter, that marked a 50 per cent increase in Edmonton and 33 per cent increase in Calgary.

READ MORE: Airdrie mother reaches out to parents of children with addiction

Shawna Taylor founded a support group in Airdrie called Here Together for families of people dealing with substance abuse. She said more needs to be done, including having more naloxone training in schools.

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“It’s frustrating,” Taylor said on Sunday. “I think there are things that can be done to help that. Even in the high schools, educating teachers and parents of younger kids on naloxone training and what substance use disorders look like so that we can reach out to some kids before things become an issue for them.

“I think our government needs to really stand up and say this is an epidemic. This is a health issue that needs to be addressed and not enough is being done. There are still 746 lives that were taken. That’s 746 families and friends and employers who may have lost employees.”

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The report showed that on average, two people die every day in Alberta as a result of accidental opioid poisoning.

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