Opioid-related emergency calls in Edmonton spike to new provincial high

Calls are up 90 per cent from 2020.

Edmonton Journal 3 minute read July 22, 2021

Edmonton emergency medical crews responded to more than 1,000 opioid-related calls from January to May, a steep 90 per cent increase from 2020.

This includes 286 opioid events in May alone, a monthly record high across Alberta, according to the province’s substance use surveillance data. And the crisis hasn’t gotten any better in recent weeks.

First responders attended 139 opioid-related calls in the city last week alone, Alberta Health Services spokesman James Wood said in a Wednesday statement to Postmedia. A dangerous drug supply and the extended warm weather that took hold over the city could be contributing factors to an increase in overdoses, Wood said.

“Alberta Health Services is seeing a high number of opioid-related emergency medical services calls in Edmonton,” Wood said in the statement. “If you or someone you love needs help related to substance use, please contact your health-care provider or call the addiction helpline for resources in your area. There are treatments available that reduce the risk of overdose and death.”

Overdose fatalities across the province are also on the rise this year with 488 people dying in the first four months of the year, an increase of 184 from the same time period in 2020. Alberta had its deadliest year on record last year with 1,331 drug poisoning deaths. In Edmonton, there have been 159 fatalities so far this year compared to 97 during the first four months of 2020.

The numbers for May are expected to be released by the province this month and the April to June second quarter statistics are set to be released in mid-August.

Eric Engler, acting press secretary for the associate minister of mental health and addictions, said the surveillance data system is currently being changed to update more frequently. The province has expanded access to recovery services and programs to address the addictions crisis, Engler said, including investing $1.5 million in a nasal naloxone pilot in Edmonton and a new overdose prevention app in Calgary with plans to expand into Edmonton this fall. The province also invested $2.1 million over three years for 35 medical detox beds at the George Spady Centre.

Community agencies in Edmonton called for an emergency action plan in May following the suspected overdose deaths of three men in a central Edmonton park and the spike in overdoses in the city. Boyle Street Community Services wants all levels of government and AHS to work together to address the crisis by providing more outreach support, better data and a co-ordinated response.

In a statement to Postmedia Wednesday, Edmonton Fire Rescue Services spokeswoman Brittany Lewchuk said an increase in opioid-related calls has also led to more Naloxone being administered and some challenges with supply levels. Naloxone is a medication used to block the effects of opioids and reverse overdoses. Lewchuk said the department never ran out of supplies and is working with vendors to ensure that operations aren’t affected.

“COVID-19 presented a challenge with supplying sharps containers because of all the vaccination sites,” she said in the statement. “There are no major concerns relating to resource impacts.”

Support and resources are available through the Addiction Helpline at 1-866-332-2322, or the Mental Health Helpline, at 1-877-303-2642. In an emergency, call 911 or go directly to the nearest emergency department. 

duscook@postmedia.com

twitter.com/dustin_cook3

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