Alberta opioid report shows fentanyl deaths still on the rise

At least 2,458 Canadians died from opioid-related overdoses in 2016: report

The number of Albertans dying from fentanyl overdoses continues to rise in 2017, nearly doubling the number of deaths the drug had caused in the same time period last year.

From Jan. 1 to Feb. 11, 51 people died in Alberta as a result of a fentanyl overdose, according to a new report from Alberta Health. In those same first six weeks of 2016, 28 Albertans died from fentanyl overdoses.

Overdose deaths in Alberta spiked around October 2016 and have continued at a similar rate ever since.​

"We saw a similar look at the last six weeks of 2016 as we're looking at the (first) six weeks of 2017," said Dr. Karen Grimsrud, Alberta's chief medical officer of health.

Overdose deaths caused by carfentanil, an opioid 100 times more potent than fentanyl, are also on the rise across the province.

"We saw the first indication of an issue with carfentanil in October of last year," said Grimsrud. "Our medical examiner went back and looked at fentanyl-related deaths and has made a determination that there was actually 30 carfentanil deaths (in 2016)."

So far this year, the deadly drug has already been found in 15 overdose cases.

Response to the report

Brandy Payne, Alberta's associate minister of health, released a statement in response to the report Friday.

"Today's interim numbers confirm what we have heard clearly from frontline health workers and community agencies. Synthetic opioids remain a deadly threat to Albertans living with substance use, to their families, and to first responders. That's why we are multiplying our efforts and will spend up to $56 million over the next year to help Albertans get the treatment they need, reduce the harms of substance use, and raise public awareness. Above all we must treat Albertans suffering in substance use with the dignity and respect that we extend to all patients in our healthcare system."

Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann, who is a a medical doctor, responded Friday with his own news release.

"It is clear that we are not getting ahead of this crisis," the statement said. "In fact, we are starting to see the same trends witnessed in British Columbia, but without our government taking similar emergency measures."

Swann is calling on the province to declare a state of emergency in response to the opioid crisis.

"We need increased public education efforts and timelier access to harm reduction, including opiate replacement therapy and safe injection sites," Swann said. "We also need to expand the availability of these resources outside of our two largest cities. Lethbridge, for instance, has a four-month wait list — this is unacceptable."