Opioid deaths in Fort McMurray hit all-time high, drug poisonings heading for record high

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Data from the Alberta government shows 2023 is the deadliest year locally for opioid deaths and on track to be the deadliest year for drug poisonings. Deaths across Alberta are also reaching all-time records.

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The data covers January to September and was released Friday. It shows drugs and alcohol have killed 21 people int that period. Opioids were involved in 18 of those deaths. Methamphetamine was involved in six deaths. Cocaine and alcohol were present in four deaths each.

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The Alberta government began tracking drug poisoning deaths in 2016. Since tracking began, 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 September, about 41 per cent of deaths in Fort McMurray happened inside the person’s home and 24 per cent of deaths were in someone else’s home. More than 10 per cent of deaths were reported in another facility. More than 20 per cent of deaths were in a hotel room. The remaining three per cent were in public.

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.

People walk past a sticker raising awareness about opioids in Edmonton. PHOTO BY DAVID BLOOM /Postmedia Network

Opioid deaths up more than 25 per cent over same period last year

Opioid poisonings have killed 1,411 Albertans during the same period. This is more than a 25 per cent increase from the same period last year, which reportedly saw 1,124 people die. Opioid deaths hit an all-time high in April with 187 deaths. The death toll dropped to 136 deaths in September.

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Overall drug poisonings also peaked in April with 195 deaths. The last time Alberta counted fewer than 100 drug poisoning deaths in a month was April 2020.

The Opposition NDP has called on the UCP-led government to expand access to harm reduction services in Alberta. The UCP’s approach has focused on expanding treatments and a recovery-oriented system.

Hunter Baril, press secretary for Mental Health and Addiction Minister Dan Williams, said in a Saturday statement to Postmedia that two of 11 promised recovery communities have opened. More centres will open next year.

More than 10,000 treatment spaces — which represent an estimate of how many people could access beds over the course of a year — have been made available since 2019, Baril added. He also said fees for publicly funded treatment are gone.

Premier Danielle Smith has promised legislation allowing a family member, doctor, or police officer to petition the court for a mandatory addiction treatment order if someone is a danger to themselves or others. This legislation has yet to be introduced.

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A naloxone kit on display at an International Overdose Awareness Day event at the Redpoll Centre on Frday, August 31, 2018. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network SunMedia

The government has also promised public data tracking wait lists for individual recovery after addiction treatment. The My Recovery Plan app was originally promised in April 2022, but its full rollout has since been delayed.

Baril pointed to the Virtual Opioid Dependency Program, which arranges for treatment remotely, including for those detained by police. The Virtual Opioid Dependency Program can be accessed at VODP.ca or by calling 1-844-383-7688.

If you or someone you know is using substances, do not use alone. If you are using alone, you can contact the National Overdose Response Service at 1-888-688-NORS for support, or download the BRAVE or DORS app.

-With reporting from Lisa Johnson

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