Fentanyl deaths continue to climb

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343 deaths reported in 2016

St. Albert first responders along with the rest of Alberta front line workers are seeing an increase in opioid related calls.

Last week the Alberta government announced the growing death toll from fentanyl. Percy Janke, Deputy Chief Administration and Planning Fire Services, says that St. Albert is not immune from the overdose trend.

The total number of fentanyl deaths in Alberta continued to climb to 343 in 2016. This is an increase of almost 100 deaths from 2015, which hit a total of 257.

Over the course of 2016 the numbers increased, with the first quarter registering 70 deaths but rising significantly to 111 deaths in the fourth quarter.

Although the St. Albert department does not have exact numbers, Janke says that the amount of fentanyl related incidents the first responders in St. Albert are seeing has increased.

“We’ve definitely seen an increase in fentanyl overdoses within St. Albert,” Janke said. “Fentanyl overdoses are trending upwards everywhere.”

As a result of the health crisis, the Alberta government has announced further steps to help curb the problem. Alberta first-responders will now all have access to an opioid overdose antidote kit.

Although fire services across the province are just getting access to the drug, St. Albert first responders have been using the antidote for opioid overdoses for years. Janke estimates ambulances in St. Albert have been equipped with the drug since the ’70s and fire trucks have been carrying the drug since 2015.

St. Albert firefighters have had access to the drug while other jurisdictions have not because all firetrucks are certified as Advanced Life Support (ALS) apparatuses. The local fire service is an integrated unit, which requires all firefighters to be certified as either EMTs or paramedics. Because of the advanced training within the fire unit, local first responders have been distributing the opioid antidote for around two years.

“It’s providing a higher level of service for the residents of St. Albert and it was provided for by council in 2015,” Janke said.

Along with provincial first responders having access to the drug, the general public was also granted easier access.

Naloxone, the antidote to the symptoms of a fentanyl overdose, will now be listed as an unscheduled drug and be available to the public without a prescription. In the past the drug was available by prescription only. Naloxone temporarily restores breathing during an overdose.

“I would encourage anyone who is concerned about a friend, a family member, a loved one, to please go pick up a kit,” Associate Minister of Health Brandy Payne said in a press conference. “They are distributed through community pharmacies across the province, as well as harm reduction agencies will be able to hand out the kits.”

St. Albert currently has 12 pharmacies that distribute Naloxone.

The government also announced plans to invest $730,000 in grants to support agencies across Alberta to establish supervised consumption sites to help combat overdose deaths.

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About Author

Jennifer Henderson

Jennifer Henderson joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2016. She writes about municipal, provincial and federal politics; court and crime; general news and features.