Another record-breaking week of overdoses, ambulance trips in Alberta

Click to play video: 'Another record-breaking week of overdoses, ambulance trips in Alberta'
Another record-breaking week of overdoses, ambulance trips in Alberta
It's another record-breaking statistic in the opioid-poisoning crisis on the heels of Alberta's deadliest month for drug deaths. New numbers show a clearer picture of what's happening right now. Morgan Black reports. – Jul 6, 2023

Overdoses requiring an ambulance have hit a new high for the second week in a row in Alberta, and an advocate is pushing for changes to the province’s recovery-centred model of addiction treatment amid what he calls an “unmitigated disaster.”

In the week of June 26, there were 339 EMS responses to overdoses across the province, up from 277 the week before. That’s about double the number of calls in each of the same weeks in 2022, according to the Alberta substance use surveillance system, and the highest number since the province started collecting data in 2018.

Data released last week also showed that drug overdose deaths are climbing higher than ever — 179 people died in April from the toxic drug supply, bringing the yearly total to 613.

Thursday, the provincial government announced funding for another addiction recovery community in Siksika Nation near Calgary. The province is pledging $30 million to establish a 75-bed facility that it said will have the capacity to treat up to 300 people each year.

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The government said it plans to establish 11 new recovery communities across the province for long-term addiction treatment.

Click to play video: '75-bed recovery centre planned for Tsuut’ina Nation'
75-bed recovery centre planned for Tsuut’ina Nation

Euan Thomson, a harm reduction advocate, said narrowly focusing on addiction treatment is “missing the scope” of the problem.

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“Right now, we’re not really in an addiction crisis, we are in a drug poisoning massacre,” said Thomson.

Ambulance responses have been climbing since April. Addictions specialists say some drugs have been contaminated with xylazine, a tranquillizer, or with benzodiazepine — both drugs that don’t respond to naloxone.

“Addiction treatment services are never going to be enough to manage a toxic drug crisis,” said Thomson.

“We’ve stripped away supervised consumption sites, we’ve eliminated what little safe supply existed before and there’s very little options left for people who aren’t ready for abstinence.”

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Click to play video: 'Opioid crisis in Edmonton is getting deadlier'
Opioid crisis in Edmonton is getting deadlier

The province has closed multiple supervised consumption sites across the province, instead choosing a recovery-centred approach. There are currently six supervised consumption sites in Alberta. The province says there has been no reduction in service capacity, saying hours have increased at supervised consumption sites.

A regulated supply of drugs is off the table in Alberta, Premier Danielle Smith said at the Siksika press conference Thursday morning.

“We do not believe that there is such a thing as a safe supply of opioids,” Smith said.

Click to play video: 'Doctors bring forth ideas for dealing with Alberta’s opioid crisis'
Doctors bring forth ideas for dealing with Alberta’s opioid crisis

“We believe that we have to make sure that we have pathways for people to get out of this terrible addiction.

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“We’re just beginning our recovery-oriented system of care.”

The union that represents emergency responders said harm reduction programs can help keep people alive long enough to get them into recovery.

“The current focus on recovery only is clearly not working to protect and aid our loved ones, friends and neighbours who are battling addictions,” said Mike Parker, president of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta.

“We need to restart and expand harm reduction programs and the wraparound mental health services that go with them.”

Parker said health-care workers have offered their expertise to the government to help with the crisis and that the offer still stands.

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