New data on opioid-related deaths in Alberta show 142 people died of “apparent accidental opioid poisoning” in the first three months of 2020, according to a recently released government report.
According to the Alberta government, the figure is down 11.8 per cent from the same time frame in 2019, when 161 deaths were reported.
“On average, in the first three months of 2020, 1.6 individuals died every day in Alberta as a result of an apparent accidental opioid poisoning,” the report says, noting that of the 142 deaths, 127 were related to fentanyl.
Eighty-five per cent of the deaths in 2020 “occurred in larger urban municipalities,” the Opioid Response Surveillance Report says. Of fentanyl deaths, the Calgary zone (49) and Edmonton zone (45) had the most deaths in the first quarter of 2020.
During the first three months of the year, 115,809 visits to supervised consumption services sites or overdose prevention sites were recorded. According to the report, the number is down from the previous quarter when there were 120,260 visits to such sites.
Late last month, Global News reached out to the office of Jason Luan, Alberta’s associate minister of mental health and addiction, to see if there is any indication yet as to how the COVID-19 pandemic may be impacting the opioid crisis in the province.
“While data is still being compiled for the time period during the pandemic, we do know that people presenting to emergency departments for overdose is down dramatically across the province, with the exception of the Edmonton zone, where admissions from overdose went from nine to 14 a day between April and May,” Kassandra Kitz, Luan’s press secretary, said in an email at the time.
She noted that the government has pledged to invest $53 million for more mental health and addiction recovery supports during the ongoing pandemic, funding that is “in addition to the $140 million commitment to create 4,000 additional treatment spaces.”
“These treatment centres are open during the pandemic and actively taking clients,” Kitz said. “The supervised consumption services (SCS) facility at the Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre (in Calgary) remains operational 24/7.
“The SCS follows the ambulatory care screening processes. Clients with influenza-like illness are given a mask to wear while in the space and are connected to additional medical support or testing as required.”
Kitz added that people who use injectable opioid agonist therapy programs are screened for “risk of COVID-19 and testing is available if required.”
“In Calgary, a mobile service is available which provides care to individuals in their home or isolation if needed,” she said.