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2023 a record-breaking year for drug-poisoning deaths in Alberta

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Newly released data from the Alberta government reveals that more than 2,000 Albertans died from drug-poisoning last year, making it the highest year on record.

With 2,051 drug-related deaths, 2023 surpassed 2022 by nearly 300 deaths, making for a 17 per cent increase. On average, six Albertans died from drug-poisoning per day in 2023, up from five in 2022.

Of the total number of deaths, 91 per cent involved opioids; however, 88 per cent involved non-pharmaceutical opioids defined by the government as fentanyl (and analogues), heroin and designer opiates, which are not typically prescribed.

Last year saw a 22 per cent increase in opioid-related deaths compared to 2022, making 2023 a record-breaking year for the number of opioid-related deaths in Alberta as well.

DEMOGRAPHICS

The data shows that in 2023 the highest number of drug-poisoning deaths in Alberta was amongst men between the ages of 35 to 39 with 243, followed by men 30-34 with 201 deaths.

Of the deaths, 68 per cent were men and 32 per cent were female. Fifty-five of the fatalities were people 19 years old or younger.

SUBSTANCES

Data from 1,235 accidental drug-poisoning death autopsies in 2023 showed that 79 per cent involved fentanyl. Methamphetamine was involved in 62 per cent, while carfentanil was found in 20 per cent.

In 2023, non-pharmaceutical deaths were involved in the vast majority of deaths and saw an increase compared to the year prior. Deaths involving benzodiazepines also went up, while deaths involving all other substances decreased when comparing the two years.

LOCATION

Of all the drug-poisoning deaths in 2023, 743 (36 per cent) occurred in Edmonton followed by Calgary with 660 (32 per cent) of the deaths.

The data also shows that the majority of opioid-poisoning deaths occurred at the person's own residence, with the second most likely place being a public location, defined by the government as any non-secure location that is accessible to others.

The percentage of deaths in public went up significantly between quarter one of 2023 and quarter three, going from 23 per cent to 41 per cent before going down to 36 per cent in quarter four.

2024

The government has also released data for the first two months of this year. January had 140 drug-poisoning deaths, and February had 114.

Of the 254 drug-poisoning deaths reported in 2024 so far, 93 per cent involved opioids.

Just over 100 deaths were in Edmonton and 79 were in Calgary.

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