Pubdate: Tue, 28 Nov 2017
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2017 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Carrie Tait
Page: A10


The number of people in Alberta who died by accidentally overdosing on
fentanyl in the first nine months of this year has exceeded the total
number of deaths attributed to fentanyl in all of 2016, according to a
new provincial report.

The Alberta government says 400 people died between January and the
end of September by accidentally consuming fatal amounts of fentanyl,
compared with 357 for all of last year. On average, 1.8 people have
died every day from accidentally overdosing on opioids, which include
fentanyl, in the province.

Alberta is among the provinces hardest hit by an opioid crisis that
has killed thousands of Canadians.

Earlier this month, Calgary became the first city in Alberta to
provide supervised drug-use services. The province approved five other
sites in October, which are expected to open later this year or early
in 2018. Four of those sites are slated for Edmonton and the fifth
will open in Lethbridge.

Brandy Payne, Alberta's associate minister of health, said the
province has not yet taken advantage of the federal government's offer
to open temporary overdose-prevention sites because it is still
waiting for Ottawa to roll out details. Further, Alberta has not
identified other potential locations for supervised drug-use sites.

"We've heard from some other communities that might be interested in
looking into it, but those conversations are in very early days," Ms.
Payne said in an interview.

Still, Alberta does not plan to declare a public-health emergency, as
B.C. did last year. The BC Coroners Service counted 914 illicit-drug
overdose deaths related to fentanyl in the first nine months of this

Ms. Payne said the provincial Public Health Act is more suited for
emergencies tied to serious communicable diseases such as influenza,
Ms. Payne said. Similarly, Ontario rejected calls to declare a state
of emergency in the face of the opioid epidemic.

"It is a different kind of emergency than we've seen in the past," Ms.
Payne said. "It is not clear [B.C.'s declaration of a public-heath
emergency] has done anything to help the situation there any more than
the work we've been doing here."

Instead, Alberta created an opioid emergency-response commission and
earmarked $56-million to address its opioid crisis this year. This
includes the $30-million dedicated to funding the recommendations made
by the opioid emergency-response commission. The commission, for
example, recommended Alberta fund supervised consumption sites.

The federal government, in an announcement two weeks ago, said it
would allow all provinces and territories to open temporary
overdose-prevention sites while their applications for permanent - and
better-equipped - facilities are being processed. Ottawa also said all
supervised drug-use sites will be permitted to test illicit substances
for contaminants such as fentanyl. This, officials hope, will help
slow the death rate even as people continue to consume illicit drugs.

Fentanyl is between 50 and 100 times more potent than morphine. Just a
few salt-sized grains can kill an adult. Alberta's opioid statistics
also reflect a sharp jump in the number of deaths related to
carfentanil, which is a member of the fentanyl family. Carfentanil is
10,000 times more potent than morphine and used as a sedative for
large animals such as elephants.

Alberta noted 44 people died of carfentanil-related overdoses in the
third quarter of 2017, 23 in the second quarter, and 30 in the first
quarter. By way of comparison, carfentanil was detected in 29 people
who died by overdoses in all of 2016. (Alberta includes
carfentanil-related deaths in its overall fentanyl tally.)
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MAP posted-by: Matt