Fentanyl-related deaths drop in Alberta, but Calgary has highest rate of fatal overdoses

New data shows that there were 120 fentanyl-related deaths in Alberta between July 1 and Sept. 30, down from 156 deaths from the previous quarter.

According to a report by Alberta's health ministry, the Q3 Opioid Response Surveillance Report, Calgary had 49 accidental fentanyl poisoning deaths in the span of three months.

According to the report, Calgary had the highest rate of fentanyl deaths per 100,000 person years, at a rate of 13.5 compared to a provincial average of 12.4. 

However Rebecca Haines-Saah, an assistant professor in community health sciences at the University of Calgary, says the report doesn't point to the successes in driving overdose deaths down.

"It is positive that it's not trending upwards. So it means that some of the things we've put in place and some of the responses that we've targeted, we've done this in the right areas, and we've been doing the right thing," she told CBC News Friday.

In comparison, the report says 180 people died during the same quarter in 2018, and that this number has been down ever since.

Haines-Saah believes the results of this report are due to the investment in supervised consumption sites by the previous NDP government, but worries that the UCP-led government of Alberta will now go in a different direction.

"We can focus on other interventions without defunding, closing or severely restricting access to the things we know that are working," she said.

"If we advocate for not investing, I think that's really dangerous. I think that's advocating for more deaths."

CBC News asked the provincial government for comment, but no one was made available.

Supervised consumption sites work, says prof

The report says in the most recent quarter, there were 16,880 visits to Calgary's supervised consumption services site at the Sheldon M. Chumir — which on average had 5,627 visits per month.

Of that, there were 112 attended overdoses, but none of them were fatal.

Haines-Saah said it's not an accident that the numbers of deaths are down in areas where they have safe consumption sites.

"We know these things work. We should continue to invest. And I think it's just setting the stage to scale these things back and say, 'Well now we're focusing on other interventions,'" she said.

Currently, funding for all new supervised injection sites, including one in Medicine Hat and a mobile site in Calgary, are on hold pending a review from the province.

"Quite frankly, all the the sites now are waiting to see when the report is released, and then the ministry decides how it will act on those recommendations and if existing supervised consumption sites will remain open as they are, or if they'll have to have different types of services," Haines-Saah said.