Fentanyl overdose deaths in Edmonton spike in first half of 2019

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Fentanyl-related deaths in Edmonton spiked to 90 in the first half of 2019 — higher than the same period in the previous three years.

With 56 fentanyl overdose deaths in the city between April and June, the highest since the third quarter of 2018, emergency services in the city are raising alarm to the severity of the issue and the continued need for treatment and harm reduction services.

Dr. Chris Sikora, Edmonton zone lead medical officer of health for Alberta Health Services, said the city is still seeing a sustained high number of overdose deaths and so investment in therapy and treatment options needs to remain a priority. Currently, more than 11,000 Albertans are receiving medication treatment for opioid use, to help prevent withdrawal and reduce cravings.

Edmonton’s three public supervised consumption sites that together provide 24-hour access have reversed more than 720 overdoses since opening in March 2018. They have treated 1,771 clients through 66,986 visits in the first 16 months. Site staff have issued more than 25,300 referrals to connect users with other support services and there haven’t been any fatal drug poisoning events at any of the sites, said a report to council’s community and public services committee.

“I think without the good work, we would have many, many, many more deaths than we have right now,” Sikora told reporters following the update presented to councillors Wednesday.

The provincial government is currently reviewing its supervised consumption services, led by former Edmonton police chief Rod Knecht. The review panel heard from the public and involved parties through meetings and online surveys. A joint submission was sent from the city and Edmonton Police Service to provide detailed data on needle debris, social disorder complaints and calls for service.

City officials said the panel’s report is expected to be submitted to the province this fall, but no details have been shared about the review results.

Fentanyl-related deaths are on the decline overall across the province, but the 90 deaths in Edmonton in the first six months of 2019 is the highest of the same period over the last four years, Alberta Health data shows.

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