Although March saw its lowest number of monthly opioid-related deaths, Alberta’s overdose deaths are still at record levels.
On Friday, the Alberta government reported that 120 people died from opioid-related deaths in March, the lowest monthly death toll since April 2021. The province claims data on opioid-related deaths in Alberta is beginning a significant decline as a result of the show pandemic.
But data from Alberta’s drug surveillance system shows opioid-related overdoses are still at record levels compared to pre-pandemic years.
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The province reported 159 deaths in January 2022, a 21.4 percent increase from January 2021 and a 231 percent increase from January 2020.
Similarly, the Alberta government reported 165 deaths in February, a 54.2 percent increase from February 2021 and a 292 percent increase from February 2020.
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“While any loss of life is tragic, we are cautiously optimistic after seeing a drop in deaths in Alberta in March. We know that the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions it has brought have caused the number of deaths from addiction to increase,” Alberta assistant secretary of mental health and addiction Mike Ellis said in a news release Friday morning.
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“We hope that death rates will continue to fall as we recover from the pandemic and continue to implement strategies to address the addiction crisis.”
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Rebecca Haines-Saah, an associate professor in the University of Calgary’s Department of Community Health Sciences, said it’s too early to celebrate the decline in opioid-related deaths.
“I think it’s way too early to really celebrate. I want to know a lot more about what (the province) is doing,” said Haines-Saah.
“I think it’s a bit of an exaggeration when they imply that this is the direct result of treatment interventions and attributed to previous higher rates.”
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Haines-Saah added that while it is difficult to pinpoint the reason for the high numbers, the COVID-19 pandemic is a factor. It’s important to invest in public health and overdose intervention programs, she said.
“Numbers were at an all-time high during the pandemic and it had a lot to do with how people experience isolation and marginalization,” Haines-Saah said.
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“Even though I study this subject, my heart sinks and my stomach turns because I have met so many families who have been affected. This is not affecting one person in Alberta, it is affecting everyone.”
Mental health and addiction critic Lori Sigurdson has blasted the government’s response, criticizing the solemn tone of the United Conservative Party in her Friday morning press release.
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“The UCP shouldn’t celebrate today. Rather than mocking and shaming harm reduction experts and advocates, the UCP must start listening to them and working with them to save lives,” Sigurdson said in a statement on Friday.
“UCP has consistently ignored scientific evidence of the life-saving effect of harm reduction interventions and made access to services more difficult for Albertans.”
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