Number of deaths in Alta. connected to fentanyl up in 2016, antidote available to first responders
The Alberta government released the most recent statistics on the fentanyl crisis in the province Tuesday, as more than 300 Albertans overdosed on it in 2016.
Meanwhile, the province is making the life-saving antidote, Naloxone, available to all first responders.
According to Alberta Health, the number of deaths connected to fentanyl has steadily increased annually since 2011. In 2011, the deaths of six individuals were connected to fentanyl. Four years later, 257 deaths were attributed to it.
In 2016, officials said the number of deaths increased by about 25 percent over the previous year – as a total of 343 people had died due to fentanyl.
Also on Tuesday, officials with the Alberta government said the life-saving antidote for fentanyl would be made available to first responders. Up until Tuesday, only firefighters who were also trained as paramedics had access to naloxone – now, all firefighters will be able to access it.
As a result, more than 1,100 members of Edmonton Fire Rescue, along with first responders from across Alberta, are being trained on what to do should they come across someone who is overdosing on fentanyl.
“It’s frustrating sometimes to see someone lose their life, when you may have had an opportunity to save it,” Deputy Edmonton Fire Chief Kevin Lefebvre said.
In 2016, Edmonton Fire Rescue received more than 800 opioid-related calls.
Lefebvre compared the addition of naloxone kits to the introduction of defibrillators – and said when they were first introduced, they were considered cutting edge.
“They will come upon people who need an opiate overdose reversed and now they can do it, so that’s really important,” Dr. Hakique Virani, who treats patients with addictions, said.
However, he also called naloxone a temporary solution.
“It’s intervening at the last possible moment before someone dies,” Dr. Virani said.
Plus, the province said naloxone had also been made an unscheduled drug, meaning anyone can obtain a kit without a prescription, and at no cost.
“The first round of kits are going to be available in the coming week,” Associate Health Minister Brandy Payne said Tuesday.
The province said a new opioid treatment clinic will open this spring in Grande Prairie, with space for 300 patients.
With files from Susan Amerongen