Six more opioid-related deaths in November 2020 has officials with Northreach Society deeply concerned about an ongoing trend that seemingly is taking drug use off the grid. Between January and November of last year, 30 drug poisoning deaths were recorded in the city.
Of those, 28 involved an opioid, a year-to-date increase over both 2018 and 2019, with one month left to account for. Overall, the city has a fatal opioid poisoning rate of 40.5 per 100,000 person-years, up slightly from 34.4 for all of 2019 when there were 26 deaths reported.
Northreach Society Executive Director Jonathon Fortune says the stigma surround drug use, specifically drugs like fentanyl, is pushing more and more users into the shadows and further away from potentially life-saving support.
“It’s very evident that people are using drugs behind closed doors, and don’t want to talk about their drug use,” he says. “We have to talk to our kids, our families about drug use, and when we are having these conversations, frame it from a place of curiosity and support instead of judgment.”
Fortune says it’s very likely the pandemic has put people in a place that is more stressful, and those extra stresses could lead them to seek drug use. Whatever the reason is, Fortune says society need to change how it does things.
“Not just from us, but there are lots of other places in the community where they can seek support. Not everybody is going to be ready for detox and treatment, but if they are ready, we have the tools to keep people safe until they are.”
Of the opioid-related deaths, 27 were from non-pharmaceutical opioids, while one was linked to pharmaceutical opioids. Non-pharmaceutical opioids are considered to be fentanyl and its related drugs, as well as heroin, while pharmaceuticals are typically prescribed opioids like codeine, hydromorphone, and methadone.
According to Alberta Health, EMS responded to 21 opioid-related events in November, for a rate of 344 per 100,000 residents. An opioid-related event includes the administration of naloxone or the use of the opioid medical protocol.
Albertans struggling with addiction can contact the Addiction Helpline at 1-866-332-2322 for support, information, and referral to services. The toll-free, confidential helpline operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.