Calgary Herald

ODS claim 488 Albertans in first quarter of 2021

NDP critic calls on UCP to take action as drug deaths spike 60% over last year

- ALANNA SMITH alsmith@postmedia.com Twitter: @alanna_smithh

Almost 500 Albertans have died from accidental drug overdoses in just four months, according to updated provincial data that shows 109 deaths in April alone.

Between January and April, 488 overdose fatalities have been recorded in the province, marking a 60.5 per cent spike compared to the same time period last year. Each month individual­ly has far surpassed previous totals from the same month in previous years.

“That's 109 grieving families, hundreds of Albertans mourning the loss of loved ones (and) communitie­s across the province feeling the trauma of these deaths,” Lori Sigurdson, NDP critic for mental health and addictions, wrote on social media.

“And it is 100 per cent preventabl­e by a government willing to listen to science and immediatel­y direct resources into harm reduction services,” she added, criticizin­g the UCP'S response to a growing crisis.

The latest update to the province's substance-use data comes shortly after the government's plan to overhaul supervised consumptio­n services in Alberta was made public.

Part of its strategy includes closing Calgary's Beltline site in the Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre

— the busiest in the province — to open two new sites in as yet undisclose­d locations.

Thirty-one per cent of fatalities so far this year are in Calgary, where 153 have died, including 31 in April. During the first quarter of 2021, 11,288 visits were recorded at the downtown supervised druguse site, where there have been no deaths.

The Opposition NDP has called on the province to keep existing sites in service and expand capabiliti­es across Alberta, in addition to providing pharmaceut­ical alternativ­es to street-level drugs and introducin­g drug-testing services.

The UCP has rejected these calls to action.

Jason Luan, Alberta's associate minister of mental health and addictions, said earlier this month that his government is “committed to do everything we can to address addiction in our province” before touting its recovery-oriented system of care.

He said the government has taken “concrete action” by creating more than 4,000 treatment spaces across the province, developing a mobile overdose prevention applicatio­n and dispensing record-high rates of naloxone and suboxone to address overdose and withdrawal symptoms, respective­ly.

Other critics slammed the UCP for not taking the crisis seriously.

“When four people die every day it does not warrant a press conference or briefing,” wrote Moms Stop The Harm, an advocacy network of families who have been affected or lost loved ones to drug overdoses. “These deaths are on you.”

Hakique Virani, an associate clinical professor at the University of Alberta who specialize­s in public health and addictions medicine, said on Twitter: “For the people stuck in this seven-plus-year-old forgotten public health emergency, I wonder how all the `Best Summer Ever' fanfare feels.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, drug poisoning deaths have at times outpaced COVID-19 fatalities. They did so again in April.

Currently, the provincial rate for overdose deaths sits at 29 per 100,000 people. Calgary is below the provincial average at 26.5, whereas Grande Prairie has the highest rate at 62.9.

The majority of deaths in Alberta involve fentanyl, an opioid 100 times more potent than morphine. Methamphet­amine, carfentani­l, alcohol and cocaine are also commonly involved in drug poisoning deaths.

 ?? DAVE DEGAGNED ?? NDP mental health and addictions critic Lori Sigurdson is renewing calls for harm reduction services to prevent drug deaths.
DAVE DEGAGNED NDP mental health and addictions critic Lori Sigurdson is renewing calls for harm reduction services to prevent drug deaths.

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