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Fentanyl deaths on the rise

Correction An earlier version of this article contained an incorrect statistic. While the numbers for fentanyl-related deaths across the province rose in 2018, there were 171 fentanyl-related deaths in the Edmonton zone in 2017 and 166 in 2018.
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Correction

An earlier version of this article contained an incorrect statistic. While the numbers for fentanyl-related deaths across the province rose in 2018, there were 171 fentanyl-related deaths in the Edmonton zone in 2017 and 166 in 2018.


After losing her daughter to a drug overdose in 2015, a St. Albert mother is shaken after learning fentanyl-related deaths are continuing to climb in Alberta.


“When you see something like that, it's almost like reliving everything over and over and over,” said Faye Gray.


Gray's 32-year-old daughter, Lindsey, died after unknowingly ingesting fentanyl while using methamphetamines.


According to Alberta Health, more than 580 Albertans died of fentanyl-related overdoses from Jan. 1 to Nov. 11 in 2018, compared to 463 people dying in that same time frame in 2017. 

On average, 13 people are dying each week, compared to 11 people each week in 2017. That means around two Albertans are dying each day from fentanyl-related overdoses.


As Gray scanned the latest numbers from Alberta Health, she said she couldn’t hold back the tears.


“It's so sad and so heartbreaking,” she said, thinking of other families who have lost their loved ones. “You never get over it and you never move on. You just somehow learn to get through each day.”


Since the death of her daughter, she has been going to grief meetings where she shares her story with other people who have lost a loved one to drug overdose. 


Gray said after reading the report, she jumped on the phone to get support from another person who attends the meetings.


Deena Hinshaw, chief medical officer of health, said while the numbers of deaths have been increasing, overall fentanyl-related deaths are starting to plateau.


“All of the efforts that we're putting in place we believe are having some impact and starting to slow that trend,” she said. “We don't have control over the illicit drug supply, and with that as the root cause, we are continuing to see deaths.”


According to the latest report, Calgary has the highest number of fentanyl-related deaths in the province. In 2018, 271 people died compared to 267 the year before.


In the Edmonton zone, which includes St. Albert, there were 166 fentanyl-related deaths in 2018 compared to 171 in the previous year.


Deaths from carfentanil, a drug that's about 100 times more toxic than fentanyl, have also been on the rise. From Jan. 1 to Nov. 11 last year, 149 people died from carfentanil overdoses, compared to 116 in 2017.

Even though the rate of overdose seems to be slowing, Hinshaw said there’s more work to be done.


“Every number in this report represents a person, with people who grieve their loss,” she said. “These are preventable deaths, so we're working hard with our partners.”


Alberta Health has been working to get naloxone kits out across Alberta. According to Alberta Health Services, take-home naloxone kits are free of charge at some pharmacies for those who pose a high risk.


Take-home kits obtained at walk-in clinics don’t require ID or a personal prescription.


Hinshaw said Alberta Health has also been working with community organizations to help tackle stigma.


“Opioid use disorder cuts across all groups in our population. There's no one group that is spared from this public health crisis.”


As Gray reflects on the report, she encourages everyone to carry a naloxone kit, even if they don’t personally know someone who’s using opioids.


The kit, which contains a solution that stops opioids from binding with receptors in the brain, can temporarily halt overdoses. The kits can be picked up at pharmacies in St. Albert, as well as St. Albert Addictions and Mental Health, located at 30 Sir Winston Churchill Avenue.





Dayla Lahring

About the Author: Dayla Lahring

Dayla Lahring joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2017. She writes about business, health, general news and features. She also contributes photographs.
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