Boyle Street responding to more overdoses in central Edmonton

Click to play video: 'Opioid crisis in Edmonton is getting deadlier'
Opioid crisis in Edmonton is getting deadlier
The opioid crisis continues in Edmonton and those closest to the issue speculate there might be a poisonous batch of drugs circulating within the city. Morgan Black reports – Jun 6, 2023

It’s been a busy start to the month for Boyle Street Community Service’s (BSCS) harm reduction team.

Streetworks has responded to 10 overdoses and knows of 10 elsewhere so far in June, while in the entire month of May the team responded to 25 overdoses, according to Marliss Taylor, health services director for BSCS.

“Right now we’re in a particularly busy time where there are a number of poisonings happening,” said Taylor.

“It is a huge concern because young people are dying or they are becoming very ill and ending up in intensive care units with potential long-term issues such as brain damage or kidney damage.”

Click to play video: '1,630 Albertans died from drug poisoning in 2022'
1,630 Albertans died from drug poisoning in 2022

Taylor said the poisonings are mostly occurring in people who inhale substances rather than inject or eat them.

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“They are sometimes taking a very long time to come out of the overdose — they start to breathe again but they’re not waking up.”

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Taylor added that she’s seen people suffering seizures as a result of the overdose, which is unusual.

The increase in overdoses could be because the patients are generally in poorer health, or they’re using in more secluded areas, she said. She added the increase could be due to contaminated drugs.

A University of Alberta professor who specializes in addiction care said parts of the city are dealing with either very potent or polluted opioids, leading to more complicated overdoses.

“We are seeing some contamination with non-opioid substances which can really, really complicate opioid poisoning reversal response,” said Dr. Ginetta Salvalaggio.

Click to play video: 'Reducing adverse side effects of opioids'
Reducing adverse side effects of opioids

The more potent drugs are requiring even more doses of naloxone to reverse a drug poisoning, said Salvalaggio.

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Plus, she said the drugs can be contaminated with xylazine, a tranquilizer, or with benzodiazepine — both drugs that don’t respond to naloxone.

While the opioid poisoning can be targeted by naloxone, a different medical intervention may be needed to help save the person’s life, said Salvalaggio.

“They may require ongoing support for that part of the poisoning that doesn’t respond to naloxone. So not only is the opioid part often more intense, but we’re also seeing those other agents… that require other forms of life support,” she said.

Salvalaggio said this could mean a trip to the hospital.

According to Alberta Health Services, from May 15 to 28 there were 177 calls to 911 related to overdose in Edmonton. In about the same time period in April, there were 124.

Salvalaggio said she checks in on people who seem extra drowsy when she passes them on her commute to see if they may be in need of medical help because of drug poisoning.

“My hope would be having Edmontonians feel like each one of those folks who might be at risk of a poisoning is still their neighbour, is still a citizen and would really appreciate a quick check-in,” she said.

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