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Opioid emergency call spike prompts warning from AHS

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After a month in which opioid-related emergency calls more than doubled year-over-year in Edmonton, Northreach Society in Grande Prairie is suggesting that the general public must continue to take the stigma out of drug use.

Executive Director Melissa Byers says the stark warning is pointing to the fact that the province is still in the midst of an opioid crisis.

“I think especially seeing COVID-19, and the social and economic issues [that] have come with people not working, I think we know as a society that people turn to drugs and alcohol to cope when they feel out of control,” she says.

According to Alberta Health Services, EMS responded to 246 opioid-related emergencies in Edmonton in May, a jump from 108 in May 2019.

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Byers says in Grande Prairie, the number of opioid-related emergency calls that involved Northreach in May was 10, which is around average. However, she suggests the ideology of “it won’t happen to me”, is potentially leading people to take additional, and unnecessary risks.

“If people are in homes, or locations where they don’t feel safe in telling their loved ones, or those around them to carry naloxone because they’re an opioid user, and I think that’s why we continue to see opioid-related deaths,” she says.

“The stigma associated with drug use is still very prevalent even throughout all the work we’ve done…and until
we start targeting that, we are going to continue to see it.”

For more information, including the signs of an accidental overdose, Byers suggests downloading a copy of Alberta Health Services’ updated Opioid Poisoning Response package.

Recently, the City of Grande Prairie signed on as the representative plaintiff in a $10 billion class-action lawsuit against more than 40 pharmaceutical companies. The lawsuit is looking for compensation for their perceived role in the harm caused to communities and the resource strain placed on municipalities responding to the opioid crisis.

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