News / Edmonton

'It's frustrating and it’s challenging': First responders struggling with opioid-related deaths in Edmonton

Edmonton saw a 25 per cent increase in deaths related to fentanyl and carfentanil in the last quarter

Responders say they are struggling with the escalating number of opioid-related deaths in the city.

Members of the police service, fire department and Alberta Health Services (AHS) spoke at the Community and Public Services Committee meeting on Wednesday, reporting a 25.7 per cent increase in fentanyl and carfentanil overdose deaths as of November 2017 compared to 2016.

“It's frustrating and it’s challenging,” said Edmonton police Insp. Shane Perka. 

“The mortality rates and the statistics speak for themselves. They are trending up, I think society is frustrated with the issue and that would include law enforcement.”

Overall the province saw a 40 per cent increase in opioid-related deaths in 2017 compared to the year before.

Perka said police are trying to keep up with the issue and better understand what causes the addiction, where it’s happening in the city and the best ways to respond.

Although Edmonton police carry naloxone kits, they have not administered them yet.

The fire department has administered 110 naloxone kits in the past 10 months in Edmonton, with nine in January alone.

Dr. Chris Sikora, medical officer of health with AHS, pointed out that although deaths are on the rise, the numbers could have been a lot worse.

“I shudder to think how things would be like if we hadn’t had a take on the naloxone program, if we hadn’t had the expanded mental health services, if we hadn't had such a dedicated effort in this area,” Sikora said.

Three Edmonton hospitals were at the top of the provincial list for most substance related visits to the emergency department despite Calgary having higher substance-related death rates.

Although Sikora says it’s mainly because Edmonton has the three largest emergency departments in the province.

“We do have large facilities … it’s reassuring to see that individuals are making it to the emergency department where they can receive help and in many circumstances they survive another day and that’s a good thing.”

At the committee meeting, Ward 1 Coun. Scott McKeen suggested managing sites for opioid users.

He gave the example of Ambrose Place, a supportive living facility with a model of harm reduction where he says people are taken “from some of the most desperate conditions to living lives that are happy.”

“A mature response from society would be that people who are chronically addicted, provide the housing for them and other services but also a harm reduction model that we as a society, we provide safe medical opioids to you and you don’t have to then die,” he said.

More on