According to recent data from Alberta’s substance use surveillance system, there have been a total of 1,169 fatalities due to drug poisoning deaths in the province since the beginning of the year. Out of these, 168 deaths occurred in the month of July.
There were 1,021 deaths documented during the initial seven months of the previous year, resulting in a 14.5 percent rise in the current year’s tally.
Bonnie Larson, a family physician from Calgary, and others working at street level were not surprised by these figures.
“The numbers are hard, difficult, heartbreaking, but not surprising, because I am out there on the frontline in Calgary anyway, and seeing firsthand the impact of all of it. It’s a complicated landscape,” Larson said.
In July, Calgary experienced 57 fatalities due to drug poisoning, while Edmonton had 58. Throughout the first seven months of this year, Calgary has recorded the highest number of deaths in the province, with a total of 419, in comparison to Edmonton’s 376.
The province has already set several grim records amid the crisis. Alberta poisoning deaths in April due to opioids hit 194, the highest number since the province started collecting data in 2016.
The province stated that the surveillance system is regularly updated each month using data from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. Typically, the data is received approximately eight weeks after the conclusion of the month.
Dr. Monty Ghosh, an addiction specialist working in both Edmonton and Calgary, states that current drug testing and wastewater testing indicate a significant increase in the presence of drugs, including carfentanil, in the supply compared to previous times.
Ghosh stated that the drug supply is highly poisonous and constantly changing on a weekly basis. Predicting the status of the drug supply is extremely challenging, which is why the mentioned statistics do not come as a surprise.
“If you look at some of the predictions that Health Canada is making in terms of the modelling … these numbers are just going to continue to rise.”
According to Ghosh, addressing the presence of pollutants in the medication supply requires a well-coordinated and comprehensive approach.
Ghosh emphasized the importance of establishing a system that can notify individuals about the presence of harmful drugs. He underscored the need for a system that promotes awareness among people regarding the substances they consume.
“If possible, we should also strive to regulate and reduce the availability of harmful drugs.”
In a statement, a spokesperson for Mental Health and Addiction Minister Dan Williams highlighted the province’s commitment to its recovery-oriented model of care.
Hunter Baril stated that over 10,000 treatment spaces have been established since 2019 to aid in liberating Albertans from the fatal illness of addiction. Furthermore, there are plans to open 11 recovery communities across the province, thereby increasing the support available for those in need.
“These facilities, along with any other publicly funded treatment centre, offer addiction treatment at no cost. Financial barriers should never hold someone back from accessing the life-saving treatment they need.”
CBC News asked for additional details regarding the current number of individuals waiting for beds, the number of people who received treatment last year, and the number of individuals who completed treatment in 2022.
Baril said the government is still working with operators to implement an online tool, called My Recovery Plan, that it anticipates will provide an accurate depiction of province-wide data.
“Once a comprehensive data set is available it will be published publicly,” he wrote. “As this is the first year of implementation, we do not have data from previous years, and look forward to showing outcomes in the future.”