Pubdate: Wed, 08 Feb 2017
Source: Edmonton Journal (CN AB)
Copyright: 2017 The Edmonton Journal
Author: Keith Gerein
Page: A1


New provincial statistics paint an increasingly grim picture of
Alberta's fight against fentanyl, as the NDP government escalated its
efforts Tuesday to get more naloxone antidote into the hands of first

Alberta Health's latest opioid report from 2016 suggests a deepening
crisis is playing out across much of the province, where fentanyl was
a factor in 343 overdose deaths last year - up one-third from 2015.

The statistics show the final three months of 2016 were particularly
harsh. The deaths of 111 people were related to fentanyl in that time
frame, more than double the number from the same period in 2015.

The Calgary region continued to see the highest numbers with 149
deaths last year, while the Edmonton zone recorded 109 deaths.

The accelerating death toll has raised worries that Alberta is losing
ground in its battle against illicit opioids and may be heading toward
the same catastrophe as in British Columbia. That province recently
announced a record high of 914 deaths from illicit drugs in 2016, up
nearly 80 per cent from the year before.

"I think this is going to be a battle that we are going to be fighting
for some time in Alberta," associate health minister Brandy Payne said
Tuesday following a news conference at Edmonton's downtown fire station.

"I'm hopeful that the steps we're taking will help us from seeing the
spike in deaths our partners to the west are seeing. Obviously, it is
something that concerns us." All told, Alberta has tallied 717 deaths
related to illicit fentanyl in the last three years.

The provincial report noted 22 of the cases from last year involved
carfentanil, a related narcotic 100 times more toxic than fentanyl.

Not included in the total were overdose deaths from prescription
opioids such as Oxycodone and morphine.

Among the new measures announced Tuesday was a ministerial order that
allows firefighters, police and peace officers to administer the
injectable form of naloxone to overdosing patients. Most of these
first responders were previously limited to using the nasal spray,
which is not as widely available.

Firefighters, in particular, often arrive at the scene of a medical
emergency before paramedics or police.

Statistics from Calgary show that fire crews in that city used
naloxone 45 times in a little over a month since getting supplied in
late December.

Edmonton fire Chief Ken Block said his department is rolling out
naloxone kits and associated training on a station-by-station basis

"I think we'll start to see these kits on many of our units beginning
in the next two weeks," he said.

Edmonton police are also contemplating whether to provide more patrol
officers with naloxone.

Payne said naloxone is being reclassified from a Schedule 2 drug to
unscheduled, which means community agencies will no longer need a
nurse on-site to administer it.

As well, the province announced that an opioid dependency clinic is
set to open in Grande Prairie this spring with the capacity to serve
300 people.

Alberta Health is also distributing $730,000 in grants to agencies
looking to set up safe drug consumption sites in various communities.
Payne said she hopes the first of these sites, in Edmonton, will open
by the end of the year.

"We are continuing to work … to get as many tools in the tool box as
we can to save lives," she said. "It's hard to say what we're going to
see in 2017. I don't think I'm ever going to reach a point where I
feel like we have done enough to address this issue."
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