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Fentanyl-linked deaths in Alberta dip, but numbers still high
EDMONTON -- The latest report on Alberta’s opioid epidemic offered some encouraging news, but not enough for health officials to declare any sort of victory.
Statistics show accidental fentanyl overdoses are down so far in 2019 across Alberta but the numbers are still a concern, according to the man who presented them at City Hall Wednesday.
“It seems to have plateaued over the past year or so, but those rates and those number of deaths overall are still quite high,” said Dr. Chris Sikora, lead medical officer of health in Edmonton for Alberta Health Services.
In the first six months of 2019, Alberta has had 288 accidental fentanyl deaths compared to 331 in the first half of 2018.
In Edmonton, the year-over-year fentanyl-related death toll increased. In the first half of 2019, 90 fentanyl-related accidental deaths were recorded, compared to 85 in the first half of 2018. The second quarter of 2019 saw 56 deaths, the second highest in any three-month period in Edmonton since 2016. The highest was in the third quart of 2018, with 65 deaths.
“Very difficult to predict where those numbers will trend,” said Dr. Sikora, who noted prescribing for opiates is slowly decreasing overall.
“I think we’ve made the appropriate investments in things like prescribing, things like treatment services, things like harm reductions services.”
The Edmonton Police Service said it's seen a reduction of crime severity in the areas surrounding the city’s supervised injection sites. But EPS officers are still finding plenty of fentanyl cut into other illicit street drugs like methamphetamine.
“Fentanyl is finding its way into everything and contaminating everything, so it’s a concern,” said EPS Inspector Dan Jones.
Since Jan. 1, 2016, Alberta has had 1,871 fentanyl-related deaths.