Calgary's fentanyl crisis: A close look at the numbers

The province announced Tuesday that 343 people died of apparent drug overdoses related to fentanyl last year, and Calgary has consistently seen more deaths than any other health region. Here's a closer look at the numbers.

Calgary has the highest death toll in Alberta as fentanyl overdoses continue to rise

The government says a total of 717 Albertans died since 2014 from opioids, and 261 of those victims were in Calgary. (Lethbridge Police Service)

The Alberta government says 343 people died of apparent drug overdoses related to fentanyl last year — up from 257 in 2015.

But Calgary has consistently seen more deaths than any other health region. 

A report from Alberta Health says the Calgary census metropolitan area — which includes Calgary, Airdrie, Black Diamond, Cochrane, High River and Okotoks — had 38 per cent more fentanyl deaths in 2016 than the Edmonton area.

Here's a look at the numbers going back to 2014.

Since Jan. 1, 2014, a total of 717 Albertans died from an apparent drug overdose related to fentanyl. That's an average of 60 per quarter. (Alberta Health)

The province says naloxone, which temporarily blocks the effects of an overdose, is being made an unscheduled drug — allowing anyone to get a kit without a prescription.

First responders will now be provided with injectable naloxone kits and training at no cost, but not everyone is on board.

"The Calgary Police Service is grateful for the province's efforts to tackle this opioid public health crisis," said spokesman Mike Nunn.

"However, the CPS will be requesting the provincial government extend the program to include nasal naloxone as well as the injectable format. Nasal naloxone reduces the risk of improper use both for police members and the public. It also eliminates the possibility of accidental exposure by contaminated needles."

Naloxone kits used more on men

Calgary police have ordered 250 additional nasal kits that they hope to roll out to officers by the end of February.

The province says the Edmonton zone had the largest volume of naloxone kits dispensed last year, with an average of 70 kits per month. Calgary was second with an average of 47 kits each month.

"Across Alberta, 164 kits were dispensed by community pharmacies a month on average," said the Alberta Health report. "The median age of an individual receiving a naloxone kit was 35 years, and 57 per cent were male."

The province says 80 per cent of fentanyl-related deaths were men. 

ER visits spike

In 2016, emergency medical services in Alberta responded to 2,267 opioid-related events and 84 per cent of these events occurred in larger urban centres.

Calgary had 988.

The highest concentration of EMS responses in 2016 to opioid-related events were Calgary's downtown areas, including the downtown East Village, Beltline and West End. Forest Lawn in the city's southeast was also mentioned.

This map shows the dispatch of emergency medical services to opioid-related events in 2016. (Alberta Health)

But while the highest concentration of EMS responses was in central areas of the city, it seems deaths related to fentanyl last year moved outside the core.

Calgary's central urban core is defined as downtown (West End and East Village), Eau Claire, Chinatown, the Beltline, Connaught/Cliff Bungalow and Victoria Park.

"Approximately 25 per cent of deaths that occurred in the cities of Edmonton and Calgary were among individuals with no fixed address or an unknown home address," said Alberta Health in its report.

Several communities — including Calgary and Edmonton — have been promised funding from the province to establish supervised consumption services.

Here's a look at the apparent drug overdose deaths related to fentanyl based on the individual’s home address in Calgary. (Alberta Health)
This is a graph of fentanyl-related drug overdose deaths related to fentanyl based on the place of death. There were two instances where an individual died in Calgary, but resided outside the city. (Alberta Health)