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Alberta hits record number of opioid-related EMS calls, half of them in Edmonton


The number of responses by emergency medical services across Alberta reached a new high last week, half of them in Edmonton.


According to provincial data, EMS answered 339 calls to opioid-related events for the week of June 26, with 170 of them coming in the capital city.


The number of such calls have been rising over the last five weeks before reaching its current zenith. The record number of opioid-related calls to EMS provincially had recently set a new record with 277 the week before, surpassing the 276 that were recorded the week of Nov. 29, 2021. Edmonton's previous record was 162 calls, set the week of July 26, 2021.


Calgary, too, set a record last week with 111 calls, beating a previous high of 96 set two months ago.


The publicly available data for EMS responses related to opioid-related events goes back to the start of 2018.


Greg Rehman, the president of the Edmonton Fire Fighters' Union, says one of his primary concerns centres around the ability to maintain and grow staffing levels needed to address the rise in the number of calls along with the growth of the city.


“As the calls continue to increase, that puts more strain on the resources that are currently able to respond to such calls," said Rehman, who sometimes works on the front lines himself. "We continue to make our marks responding to all calls. It’s just that we need to continue to keep pushing for additional resources and supports for our frontline staff to ensure that those services are still being delivered to the public."


At an announcement Thursday morning for a new addictions treatment centre near Calgary, Premier Danielle Smith said the government plans to continue on its current plan to address the crisis, which is centred on a recovery-oriented approach.


"This is the answer that we have. We do not believe there is such a thing as a safe supply of opioids," she said during the announcement on the Siksika First Nation. "We believe that we have to have pathways for people to get out of this terrible addiction."


She said the particular drug on the market now is mixed with a tranquilizer, making the use of naloxone – which can be administered to people to reverse or reduce the effects of opioids – less effective.


Petra Schulz, one of the founding directors of Moms Stop The Harm, a network of Canadians affected by substance use-related harm and death, says the government needs to change its approach to address the rising numbers.


"Without harm reduction measures to keep people alive and well, people don’t live long enough to make it to recovery," Schulz told CTV News Edmonton. "During their first mandate, they announced 11 (new treatment facilities) … They opened one."


She said the government's one-track approach not only doesn't address the need for harm reduction, it's "not working" at all given the continued spikes in case numbers.


"That is a huge failure, which is born out with the highest death rates that we have ever seen," Schulz said. "A lot of politicians say it’s (either) recovery or harm reduction. No, you need both. Keep people alive, give them a chance to get well.


"This is an emergency, and the government needs to treat it like an emergency, not create some hypothetical system that might do something tomorrow, because people are dying today."


With files from CTV News Edmonton's Jeremy Thompson Top Stories


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