2023 already deadliest year of opioid crisis for Fort McMurray

2023 will be the deadliest year for the opioid crisis in Alberta. There have been 1,349 Albertans killed by drug poisonings so far this year, up from 1,145 in 2022.

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Opioids killed more people in Fort McMurray between January and August than in any other year since the Alberta government began tracking deaths in 2016. Data released Monday by the Alberta government shows 2023 is on track to be Fort McMurray’s deadliest year for drug poisonings.

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The data shows 20 people died from drug poisonings during the first eight months of 2023. Opioids were involved in 18 of those deaths. Methamphetamine was involved in six deaths, cocaine was found in four deaths and alcohol was present in three deaths.

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To compare, Alberta Health’s data for Fort McMurray found that:

  • 2016 reportedly had opioids in 10 out of 13 fatal drug poisonings.
  • 2017 reportedly had opioids in 16 out of 17 fatal drug poisonings.
  • 2018 reportedly had opioids in all 12 fatal drug poisonings
  • 2019 reportedly had opioids in 10 out of 14 fatal drug poisonings.
  • 2020 reportedly had opioids in 15 out of 21 fatal drug poisonings.
  • 2021 reportedly had opioids in 9 out of 13 fatal drug poisonings.
  • 2022 reportedly had opioids in 16 out of 20 fatal drug poisonings.

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Between January and June, about 62 per cent of deaths in Fort McMurray happened inside the person’s home and 11 per cent of deaths were in someone else’s home. More than 15 per cent of deaths were reported in another facility. The remaining 12 per cent of deaths occurred either in public or in a hotel room.

As of Oct. 29, Emergency Medical Services (EMS) have responded to 62 calls related to drug poisonings in Fort McMurray. EMS responded to 100 calls related to drug poisonings in 2022.

Alberta heading towards deadliest year in opioid crisis

The data also shows 2023 will be the deadliest year for the opioid crisis in Alberta. There have been 1,349 Albertans killed by drug poisonings so far this year, up from 1,145 in 2022.

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Calgary leads the death toll in Alberta’s cities with 475 deaths. Edmonton is close behind with 454 deaths. Lethbridge—which has a population of more than 104,000 people—is in third with a record-high 98 deaths.

Hunter Baril, a spokesperson for Alberta’s Mental Health and Addiction Minister Dan Williams, defended Alberta’s approach to the opioids crisis.

He said Alberta has added more than 10,000 new treatment spaces since 2019 and is building 11 new recovery communities. Four of those communities are in partnership with First Nations. Baril added the province supports “on-demand treatment” through the virtual opioid dependency program, which has no fees or waitlist.

“Across Canada, communities are seeing the impact of the deadly disease of addiction. As a government, we are committed to a compassionate approach we call the Alberta Recovery Model,” Baril said in the statement. “For too long, governments have looked for ways to manage or even facilitate addiction instead of providing access to treatment and support for recovery.”

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Janet Eremenko, Alberta NDP critic for mental health and addictions, argued recent numbers show the UCP’s approach to the crisis is failing.

“We are losing six people every day, and these are not just numbers on a graph. Behind every number is a story of a loved one and of people hurting. Every death is an empty seat at the holiday table that could have been saved if the UCP government had responded with a harm reduction approach that we know saves lives,” said Eremenko.

“New data showing that the province is on track for the deadliest year in history is devastating, and Danielle Smith and the UCP must admit their approach is not working.”

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