Spike in deaths has HIV Com­munity Link deeply con­cerned

Medicine Hat News - - FRONT PAGE - MO CRANKER Lo­cal Jour­nal­ism Ini­tia­tive Re­porter mcranker@medicine­hat­news.com Twit­ter: mocranker

Over­dose sta­tis­tics re­leased Wed­nes­day by the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment are highly con­cern­ing, HIV Com­munity Link’s ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor says.

The re­port showed that 301 Al­ber­tans died of an over­dose from April to June, bring­ing 2020’s to­tal to 449 — more than two peo­ple a day on av­er­age.

“It’s an as­tound­ing num­ber — the high­est num­ber in a quar­ter that we’ve had,” said Les­lie Hill. “Un­for­tu­nately for or­ga­ni­za­tions that work with peo­ple who use sub­stances, th­ese num­bers were un­for­tu­nately not a sur­prise. We’ve been hear­ing about the num­ber of over­doses and over­dose deaths in­creas­ing through our clients and folks who are griev­ing the loss of their com­munity mem­ber.

“This is an un­for­tu­nate and ter­ri­ble cir­cum­stance.”

The re­port also shows 284 fen­tanyl-re­lated deaths in the quar­ter, up from 130 from Quar­ter One. Hill says peo­ple are us­ing fen­tanyl be­cause that is largely what is avail­able.

“This is the sup­ply of what is read­ily avail­able,” she said. “It is cheap and easy to bring into the coun­try. It is easy to press into pills and it’s quite a lu­cra­tive for drug deal­ers. Fen­tanyl has been a huge chal­lenge for years and this is no dif­fer­ent.

“Anec­do­tally, what we’re hear­ing is that the drug sup­ply changed a lot as a re­sult of the pan­demic be­cause the usual means of get­ting drugs into the coun­try were cut off.

“The drug sup­ply is a lot less pre­dictable than it has been in a while.”

Hill says peo­ple have be­come com­pla­cent about over­dose deaths.

“This quar­ter’s num­bers re­ally tell us that the com­pla­cency is re­ally dan­ger­ous,” she said. “We re­ally need to dou­ble our ef­forts and make sure we’re sup­port­ing peo­ple who are vul­ner­a­ble to dy­ing by over­dose.”

Hill says there is a lot of work to be done to cre­ate a net­work of sup­ports for those with men­tal health chal­lenges.

“We hear in the news all the time that men­tal health and sub­stance abuse has got­ten worse dur­ing the pan­demic,” she said. “What we need as a base is a solid sup­port net­work for peo­ple that in­cludes good fund­ing for sub­stance use, men­tal health, home­less­ness and cri­sis sup­ports. Peo­ple need to know where they can turn to.

“Harm re­duc­tion is a piece of that. Su­per­vised con­sump­tion ser­vices and ac­cess to a safer sup­ply of sub­stances are ini­tia­tives you see across the coun­try as a re­sult of the over­dose epi­demic.”

There have been five fen­tanyl deaths in Medicine Hat this year. Hill says Medicine Hat paints a pic­ture of the rest of Al­berta.

“Medicine Hat is a bit of a mi­cro­cosm of what is hap­pen­ing across the prov­ince,” she said. “What we tend to see in Medicine Hat is that things will be quiet for a while, but there are not a large num­ber of sup­pli­ers in the city. What tends to hap­pen is that we’ll have a bad batch of drugs come through Medicine Hat. So things will be fine for a while, then there will be a rash of over­doses all at once.”

Hill added that she would like to see sta­tis­tics re­leased more fre­quently by the prov­ince.

“When you look at COVID19 you can find re­cent in­for­ma­tion about trans­mis­sion. If we had that with over­doses, we could ad­just course quicker and re­spond ac­cord­ingly,” she said.

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