Edmonton councillors call for specific steps to cope with opioids

Edmonton city councillors are calling for specific ways to deal with ongoing opioid crisis, with the number of overdose deaths showing no signs of relenting. 

746 people in Alberta died from apparent opioid-related overdoses in 2018

Supervised consumption sites report reversing 334 overdoses between March and end of December last year. (Kerry McKee/CBC News)

Edmonton city councillors are calling for specific solutions to help the city deal with the ongoing opioid crisis, while the number of overdose deaths shows no signs of relenting. 

Two people in Alberta die every day from opioid overdoses, council's community and public services committee heard Wednesday as Alberta Health Services gave members an update on the drug crisis.

In 2018, 746 people in the province died from apparent opioid-related overdoses, up from 700 in 2017, according to the Alberta Opioid Response Surveillance Report for 2018.

Lead medical officer of health with Alberta Health Services, Dr. Chris Sikora, presented the findings to councillors. 

"We're still seeing high numbers of opioid-related deaths across Alberta," Sikora told the committee.

He said 90 per cent of opioid-related deaths now involve fentanyl, up from about 50 per cent a few years ago.

About 180 people in Edmonton died from fentanyl-specific overdoses in 2018, while 292 died in Calgary. 
Dr. Chris Sikora, middle, tells community and public services committee that the opioid-related deaths are still high in Alberta. (Natasha Riebe/CBC)

Coun. Michael Walters said he wants AHS to suggest more concrete ways the city can help. 

"They're tragic, people are losing their lives," he said. "It's not enough to just get an update, x number of people are dying. What can we be doing in addition to what's on the table now, or what are we doing?"

Walters suggested provincial investment in recreation, family services and assistance for better treatment options may help.

Sikora said he'll talk to partnering agencies such as education, housing, health, and social agencies to see what he can present to councillors the next time he gives an update, expected in the fall. 

The opioid update also reflects the use of Edmonton's new supervised consumption sites.

From the end of March to the end of December 2018, there were nearly 29,300 visits to the sites.

Boyle Street Community Services began offering supervised consumption services on March 23, 2018.

George Spady Centre started on April 23 and Boyle McCauley Health Centre began services on November 5, 2018.
Calgary has had the highest number of fentanyl-related deaths in Alberta, followed by Edmonton. (Alberta Health)

During the same time period, 334 overdoses were reversed at the sites and no one died from fatal drug poisonings.

"I shudder to think what it would be like if we hadn't had these environments opened to provide these supervised service."

Sikora noted the added benefit of the supervised sites is that clients have access to other social and mental health services and treatment.  

Insp. Dan Jones told councillors that police are working with supervised consumption sites but haven't seen a decrease in the number of fentanyl seizures.

"They're brand new," he said of the sites. "So the impact might take a few years. There's no magic bullet for this stuff."

Jones told the committee that police are open to collaborating with other agencies. 

"We need to work better with our partners. We need to address the root causes rather than the symptom with the symptom, which is addiction," he said. "We're dealing with people who suffered trauma more often than not."

Jones said international jurisdictions are studying the problem and researching possible mitigating measures.

Inner city suffers

Sikora said inner-city neighbourhoods still experience most of the opioid-related deaths.

Eastwood, Abbottsfield and Woodcroft West had the highest rates of deaths related to opioid overdoses in 2018.

Walters said he's shocked every time he hears the numbers.

"I look to my own ward and see four per cent of the deaths in Edmonton this year were in Twin Brooks, nine per cent in Duggan," he said "It's close to home for all of us."

The report also shows more than 130,000 naloxone kits had been distributed to Albertans as of January 2019.