About 50 people expected to have died from opioid use in Lethbridge before 2020 is over: provincial data

Click to play video: '2020 becomes deadliest year for opioid deaths in Lethbridge as province releases new data'
2020 becomes deadliest year for opioid deaths in Lethbridge as province releases new data
WATCH ABOVE: The province launched the Alberta substance use surveillance system on Friday afternoon, showing a significant spike in opioid-related deaths in Lethbridge. Eloise Therien has more on how the South Zone stacks up to the rest of the province, and how the closure of the city’s supervised consumption site has impacted overdose numbers. – Dec 18, 2020

A new online data system called the Alberta substance use surveillance system was launched in the province on Friday.

The new format will replace the former quarterly reports released by the province, showing a variety of data collected through Alberta Health Services and other collection systems.

During the first six months of 2020, data shows 22 people died from apparent opioid-related overdoses in Lethbridge, a number that has risen to 42 in the third quarter.

In the South zone, 83 people died from “accidental acute drug poisoning deaths,” which includes a variety of drugs and alcohol. From opioids alone, 72 lives were taken.

According to provincial data, Lethbridge is on track to reach 50.9 deaths per 100,000 people by the end of 2020. Compare that to data from other municipalities and Lethbridge has the highest rate of opioid-related deaths in all of Alberta. The next highest number of per capita opioid deaths is in Red Deer at 39.1 per 100,000 people.

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The deadliest month in Lethbridge since the start of the opioid crisis in 2016 was this past June, with nine people losing their lives. However, the numbers began to decline as the year wore on. In July, six people passed away, followed by seven in August.

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On Aug. 31, 2020, Lethbridge’s supervised consumption site operated by ARCHES ceased its services, followed by the opening of a new mobile overdose prevention site. The OPS, operated by AHS, is located near the Lethbridge Shelter and Resource Centre.

“Since ARCHES was closed in Lethbridge, we’ve actually seen the number of opioid-related deaths decline,” Premier Jason Kenney said at a news conference Friday.

He said the data shows two people died from opioids in September, and three in October.

Kenney said the overall provincial decline in the month of October could be due, in part, to the increased distribution of naloxone. Naloxone distribution data is included in the new system, which shows a record 19,336 kits were distributed to the community in the third quarter of 2020.

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The premier said the COVID-19 pandemic has been a contributing factor to the uptick, according to certain data.

“Opioid addiction, very sadly, has impacted Indigenous people disproportionately during the pandemic,” Kenney said. “The rate of opioid overdose deaths amongst First Nations, has increased by 61 per cent from 2019 to the first six months of 2020.”

In total, opioids have claimed the lives of 904 Albertans in the first 10 months of 2020, compared to 627 in all of 2019.

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