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No easy fix

Efforts to combat the ongoing opioid crisis in the province, including the setup of controversial safe injection sites, have yet to yield overwhelming success.
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Efforts to combat the ongoing opioid crisis in the province, including the setup of controversial safe injection sites, have yet to yield overwhelming success.

The number of people dying from fentanyl-related overdoses continues to rise, hitting a record high in 2018, according to new statistics from Alberta Health Services.

A report dated Feb. 1 shows between Jan. 1 and Nov. 11, 2018, 582 Albertans died of fentanyl-related overdoses. In the Edmonton zone, which includes St. Albert, the number of deaths due to fentanyl misuse dipped marginally, with 166 recorded compared to 171 the previous year.

The fatalities have continued to climb since March 2015, when the province officially launched its battle against the problem.

In 2016, there were a total of 358 deaths related to fentanyl poisoning. The following year, the number climbed to 562.

The statistics are a clear indicator that despite the steps taken to quell this public health crisis, more must done to save lives.

“It’s so sad and so heartbreaking,” said Faye Gray, a St. Albert woman, about the hike in deaths. She knows first-hand the devastation the deadly opiate can wreak. Gray’s 32-year-old daughter died in 2015 after unknowingly ingesting fentanyl while using methamphetamines.

“Opioid use disorder cuts across all groups in our population. There’s no one group that is spared from this public health crisis,” said Deena Hinshaw, chief medical officer of health with AHS.

It has been almost two years since the provincial government created the Opioid Emergency Response Commission, giving it a $30-million budget to tackle six urgent issues: harm-reduction initiatives; treatment; prevention; enforcement and supply control; surveillance and analytics; and collaboration.

The commission’s numerous strategies include safe drug-use sites, distribution of naloxone kits, and the proliferation of literature and studies drawing attention to the harmful effects of opioid use.

Gray is a strong advocate of the naloxone kits, which contain two to three vials of the fast-acting drug that can temporarily reverse an opioid overdose. She encourages all residents to carry a naloxone kit that can be administered in an emergency. The kits can be picked up at pharmacies in St. Albert as well as St. Albert Addictions and Mental Health.

It’s evident the influx of provincial initiatives hasn’t curtailed the opioid crisis. Albertans continue to die at an alarming rate. On average, 13 people are dying every week from fentanyl-related overdoses.

Hinshaw says based on the last half of 2018, the rate of increase in opioid deaths has slowed, a possible result of the AHS programs and strategies currently in place. We will have to wait until the next statistical report on the issue for proof.

If Hinshaw and AHS are correct, perhaps the number of victims of fentanyl-related overdoses will slowly dwindle. But that is not good enough.

The province can’t let up on its efforts to stem the death rate from opioid abuse. There is no easy fix, but the price of complacency is too high.

Editorials are the consensus view of the St. Albert Gazette’s editorial board.