Opioids are killing 2 Albertans every day, according to new report

Alberta's opioid crisis continues to take a devastating toll with a new report showing 1,782 people have died from accidental overdoses since the beginning of 2016.

More than 1,700 people have died from accidental overdoses since the beginning of 2016

Six people died of drug overdoses between July 1 and July 2. (CBC)

Alberta's opioid crisis continues to take a devastating toll with a new report showing 1,782 people have died from accidental overdoses since the beginning of 2016.

According to Alberta Health's latest opioid response surveillance report, 523 people died of accidental opioid poisoning in the first nine months of this year, 494 of them were related to fentanyl. That compares with 388 fentanyl deaths for the same time period in 2017.

"We see deaths in all walks of life," said Dr. Deena Hinshaw, acting deputy chief medical officer of health.

The report also notes that while fentanyl deaths continue to rise, that increase appears to have slowed.

"It's too early to say if that's an overall trend that will continue," said Hinshaw,

 From July to September 2018, 158 Albertans were killed by fentanyl overdoses, compared to 167 people in previous quarter. 

"Even though plateauing is good, we're still higher than we were in 2017. And it's almost two people a day who are dying from opioid poisoning," she said.

Leslie Hill, executive director of HIV Community Link, says the group hopes to start operating Calgary's first mobile consumption site in February. (Jennifer Lee/CBC )

Those numbers come as no surprise to those working on Calgary's front-lines.

For staff at HIV Community Link, which is awaiting approval from Health Canada to set up Calgary's first mobile supervised consumption site, its increasingly difficult to find people who haven't been impacted by the opioid crisis. 

"It's akin to the AIDS crisis in the '80s where you might go to multiple funerals in a month of people that you know and people that you love," said Leslie Hill, executive director of the organization.

"The trauma and grief that's associated with this is really significant."

'Still a significant crisis'

According to Hill, the need for programs and services to help those struggling with addictions remains high.

"We [aren't] out of the woods. There's still a significant crisis happening.... And and we continue to have a need for more services in the city to respond to that," she said.

The vast majority of opioid deaths are now related to fentanyl and deaths caused by other opioids have "decreased significantly" according to the report.

The most recent set of data, for the second quarter of 2018, shows 92 per cent of accidental opioid  deaths were caused by fentanyl.

2018 Fentanyl overdose death rates by municipality (per 100,000)

  • Red Deer — 38.5
  • Lethbridge — 29.4
  • Grand Prairie — 28.8
  • Calgary — 21.7
  • Edmonton — 17.4

The vast majority of the deaths (87 per cent) for the first nine months of 2018 occurred in larger urban centres, with the highest rates in Red Deer, Lethbridge and Grand Prairie, followed by Calgary and Edmonton.

For her part, Hinshaw hopes Albertans will see that the opioid crisis doesn't just impact those who are marginalized. That recognition, she says, can help reduce the stigma that drives many people to hide their addiction.

"Have compassion for people who are struggling with addiction to make it easier to access treatment because when people feel judged by those around them, that actually limits their get the help they need," she said.


Jennifer Lee


Jennifer Lee is a CBC News reporter based in Calgary. She worked at CBC Toronto, Saskatoon and Regina, before landing in Calgary in 2002. If you have a health or human interest story to share, let her know.


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