Men made up 77% of the 653 opioid deaths in Alberta in 2017: report

New numbers shed new light on opioid crisis in Alberta
WATCH ABOVE: We're now getting a clearer picture of exactly who is hardest hit by the opioid crisis in Alberta. Tom Vernon breaks down the numbers.

A report examining the hundreds of opioid-related deaths in Alberta is giving the government a better understanding of who is being hit hardest.

In 2018, 789 people died from an unintentional opioid-related overdose. In 2017, there were 653 opioid-related deaths in Alberta. The vast majority — 77 per cent — were men, particularly young men between 25 and 39.

READ MORE: Canadian life expectancy has stopped rising because of the opioid crisis

“We found out that over three-quarters of people who died had stable residences,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, told Global News.

“It’s not the necessarily the picture of opioid deaths that some people might have in their head about who is at risk.”

The report also found that 84 per cent of people who died had at least one family member or friend who was aware of their drug use.

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“For 10 per cent of the deaths — and again, this is deaths in 2017 — a family member or friend had checked on that person and had seen them snoring or gurgling and thought they were sleeping,” Hinshaw said.

“One of the things this emphasizes is the importance of, for example, the take-home Naloxone program and having people get that free Naloxone kit from many locations across the province and have it readily available to use,” she said.

Petra Schulz co-created Moms Stop The Harm in 2016. She lost her son Danny to an unintentional overdose in 2014. He was 25 years old.

“I see the people we love in these numbers,” Schultz said.

“I was in tears reading through it because I had to think about my son and the children of my friends.”

She would like to see a continuation of programs that are effective and additions to things like rapid access to treatment in emergency rooms, correctional facilities and easier access to services, resources and supports.

“We need to get the right information to families, first of all, how to approach a person, what kind of help is out there,” Schultz said. “Our system is so hard for families to navigate. We could have help for system navigation so they can point their loved one where to turn.”

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READ MORE: Amid opioid crisis, supervised consumption sites face uncertain future in Alberta, Ontario

Hinshaw said information from the report is already being applied to health planning.

“Our findings are strikingly similar to those of B.C. and Ontario, who have done similar reports, and there’s a common theme in all of these reports that this cohort of young men is at risk,” she said.

Why this particular cohort is more at risk is still being examined, she said.

“What’s most important is that we’re able to reach out to people who are at risk and ensure they know where they can get services — everything from harm reduction to treatment to recovery services.

“What this report tells us is who needs to have this information to save those lives.”

Watch below (Nov. 6, 2018): On average, two people in Alberta die from an accidental opioid overdoes every day. Now, a new approach is being used to try to help people better understand the situation. Kendra Slugoski reports.

Interactive experience aims to enlighten people about opioid addiction
Interactive experience aims to enlighten people about opioid addiction

According to the report, 53 per cent of those who died from opioids were in the trades, transport or equipment operator industries.

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Previously being in provincial custody or medical diagnoses for psychiatric conditions or chronic pain were other common risk factors.

While it’s too early to identify longer-term trends, Hinshaw is slightly encouraged by the first quarter results from 2019.

“Quarter one of 2019 had fewer deaths than quarter four of 2018.”

The latest numbers show there were 137 deaths in Q1 of 2019, compared to 160 in the previous quarter.

READ MORE: Opioid overdose deaths continue to increase in Canada

“Every Albertan is touched by the opioid crisis and the more we can reach out to people who are affected by it with compassion and reduce the stigma that surrounds mental health issues and addiction issues, that’s one of the key ways that all of us, every Albertan, can help to respond to the crisis,” Hinshaw said.

Alberta Health undertook a review of the Chief Medical Examiner’s case files on all unintentional opioid-related deaths in 2017. That information was supplemented by administrative data from Alberta Health.

Click here to read the full review of 2017 opioid-related deaths in Alberta.

Click here to read the full data on opioid-related deaths in Alberta so far in 2019.

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