EMS responded to 55 opioid-related calls in the Edmonton zone in two days: May 31 and June 1, Alberta Health Services said.
Naloxone was given during 50 of those incidents and EMS took 34 patients to hospital, AHS said in a warning on Thursday.
“At this time, there is no specific information available on the substance, its description or the observed reactions,” the health agency said.
Overdose deaths nearly doubled in Edmonton in 2020, according to Boyle Street Community Services, rising from 267 in 2019 to 485 in 2020. Data indicates they’re rising again this year.
“Year over year there’s been about a 100 per cent increase in the number of overdose deaths,” executive director Jordan Reiniger said on May 25, following three overdose deaths in downtown Edmonton on May 21.
“This is the latest shocking incident in a trend that we’re seeing of significant number of overdoses across the city at all our sites,” Reiniger said.
The social agency is calling on government and community partners, including the Edmonton Police Service, Alberta Health and Alberta Health Services, to help create an emergency coordinated response and command centre to the overdose crisis involving police, AHS and the provincial government, quicker and more fulsome data (including location information) on overdoses.
Reiniger would also like to see all front-line social workers have access to Naloxone kits and more outreach programming.
“There’s a number of things we can do immediately. We need to do those things urgently to save lives now and reduce the amount of death that’s happening.”
In its Thursday news release, AHS offered substance use resources through health care providers, the Addiction Helpline at 1-866-332-2322 or the Mental Health Helpline at 1-877-303-2642.
In an emergency, AHS says call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department.
The health agency also shared safety reminders for those who choose to use illegal drugs:
- Avoid using while alone
- Ask someone to check on you or use while on the phone with a trusted person who can call for help in the event of an overdose
- Use supervised consumption services if possible
- Do a test dose to check the potency or strength of the drug
- Know the signs and symptoms of overdose and call 911 for direction and support
- Carry a Naloxone kit and know how to use it
- Connect with your local harm-reduction, health and social services agencies
- Reach out to available substance-use treatment, recovery-oriented supports and mental health services
Prior to the fall of 2020, supervised consumption services were offered at three sites in central Edmonton.
The Boyle Street consumption site was officially shut down in April after its services were moved to the Edmonton Convention Centre in October 2020.
When Boyle Street shifted services to the convention centre in October, the George Spady Centre began operating 24 hours a day, which will continue with the closure of the Tipinawâw shelter.
While service capacity at the George Spady Centre has been increased, overall capacity in Edmonton will be reduced.
Justin Marshall, press secretary to the associate minister of mental health and addictions, said there has been no reduction in funding for supervised consumption services in the Edmonton zone.
“At the same time, Alberta’s government increased the booth capacity at the George Spady Centre, across the street from Boyle Street’s facility. We also turned this into a 24-7 operation,” Marshall said.
“We are engaged with the Boyle Street society about potentially operating overdose prevention services in an underserviced area of Edmonton.”
The Opposition is pushing to make supervised consumption services more accessible and is raising concerns with the UCP’s Recovery-oriented Overdose Prevention Services Guide.
“I fear that the requirements outlined in this report will make it harder for Albertans to access life-saving services,” said NDP Mental Health and Addictions Critic Lori Sigurdson.
“It is a well-documented fact that asking people to identify themself before accessing these services will make them less likely to use them.”
One requirement in the policy guide is the “collection of and support for clients to obtain a personal health number in order to access referral services when they need them.”
Sigurdson said Alberta currently has the highest overdose fatality rate it’s ever had.
“We are in the midst of a deadly overdose crisis.”
In a statement Thursday, Marshall offered clarity on Alberta’s SCS guidelines, which operators in the province must follow in addition to meeting Health Canada requirements.
“The new provincial quality standards go further to help ensure consistency of supervised consumption services and policies throughout Alberta. This will result in higher quality services, improved integration with the health-care system, and better community safety.
“Albertans seeking support will not experience any related disruption in service,” Marshall said, on behalf on the ministry of mental health and addictions.
“Asking for a personal health number will help connect clients to the health care system, in order to provide them with access to a range of other services and supports available to help them.
“Clients shall not be refused services while they are in the process of looking up a PHN or obtaining/renewing coverage,” he said.
“In situations where an individual cannot produce a personal health number, Alberta Health has created new processes to help staff support individuals to obtain this information, with client consent.”