Pubdate: Wed, 08 Feb 2017
Source: Lethbridge Herald (CN AB)
Copyright: 2017 The Lethbridge Herald
Author: Dean Bennett
Page: A1


Overdose deaths reach 343 in 2016

An increasing number of fentanyl overdose deaths in Alberta has
prompted the government to announce new efforts to combat the opioid.
Associate Health Minister Brandy Payne says 343 people died from
fentanyl overdoses last year - a 25 per cent increase from 257 deaths
in 2015.

The total number of deaths was 117 the year before

"Opioid overdoses and deaths are a public health crisis in Alberta,"
Payne said Tuesday at a news conference at a downtown fire hall.

"Everyone in this room knows the devastating impact fentanyl and other
opioids are having on families and communities in all regions of this

Twenty-two of the 343 deaths involved carfentanil, a far more potent
and deadly form of the drug, Payne said.

Almost 90 per cent of the deaths were in urban areas. The hardest hit
were low-income earners or the needy. One in four victims in Edmonton
and Calgary had no fixed address or known home address.

The province is fighting the drug on a number of fronts, including
distributing naloxone kits, which can be used in emergency situations
to save an overdose victim.

Payne said the government is changing regulatory rules to allow police
and peace officers and firefighters to deliver naloxone by injection.
They will be trained on how to use the kits.

Up until now, only medical first responders have been allowed to
administer naloxone.

Ken Block, Edmonton's fire chief, called it a critical policy

"We've witnessed first-hand the increase in medical calls related to
these kinds of drugs, and the devastating impacts that they have on
Edmontonians," said Block.

Take-home naloxone is already available without prescription at 921
sites, mostly community pharmacies. They also include nonpharmacy
sites such as post-secondary institutions, jails, community health
centres and inner city agencies. Payne also announced the legal
medical classification of naloxone will be changed to allow care
providers more latitude.

"We need to make naloxone more widely available," she said. "Community
agencies no longer need a nurse on site to administer and distribute

The province is also working to open more treatment

An opioid dependency treatment clinic is set to open in Grande Prairie
this spring for 300 patients.

Alberta has put up $230,000 for a proposal to the federal government
that asks that the province be given the green light to create
medically supervised injection services.

Another $500,000 in grants have been approved for supervised services
such as needle distribution programs.

Mayors in Canada's big cities, including Edmonton and Calgary, agreed
last week to push the federal government for a nationwide emergency
response to the fentanyl crisis.

Liberal Leader David Swann said Payne needs to do more. He renewed his
call for the province to declare a public health state of emergency.

"We are lacking timely information and are dealing with this in a
piecemeal fashion when what is needed is a co-ordinated and
comprehensive approach," said Swann.

Wildrose health critic Tany Yao said it's disturbing that numbers
reveal 60 per cent of those who died in 2016 had an opioid
prescription in the year before their death.

Yao said more needs to be done to stop opioid addictions that take
root through legitimate prescriptions, and said he'll continue to
fight for more services such as treatment beds and naloxone kits.
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