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18 drug deaths in Lethbridge during first 4 months of 2021

Lethbridge has seen 32 drug-related deaths since the supervised consumption site closed last summer. EMS responses are also up over 2020.

Last week, the Alberta government updated the data contained in its Alberta Substance Use Surveillance System.

The online dashboard tracks various metrics related to substance use in the province, including deaths, EMS responses, supervised consumption site usage, and hospitalizations.

This is a limited data update, with new data for drug-related deaths in April 2021 and EMS data for April and May 2021

Since the updated data was available, I thought I’d breakdown stats for Lethbridge (see my previous coverage for Q1 2020, Q2 2020, Q3 2020, and Q4 2020).

Deaths

Lethbridge saw 3 substance-related deaths during April 2021, down from the 4 reported the previous April.

This was the third highest number of deaths seen during any April 2016 and 2021. The highest was 2018, which saw 5, and 2020 was second highest at 4.

According to the new system, these deaths include only those certified by the medical examiner. They don’t include “apparent fentanyl deaths”, which are deaths where fentanyl was present in the system of the person who died and “initial circumstances point to a likely drug poisoning death”.

It’s quite possible that Lethbridge has seen even more than 3 deaths in April related to substance use.

Calgary and Edmonton had, by far, more total deaths this year. Lethbridge was tied with Medicine Hat for 4th highest number of total deaths related to substance use. Grande Prairie and Red Deer were third at 4.

However, when we account for population, Lethbridge had the second lowest death rate per 100,000 person years of the 7 communities included in the data.

Lethbridge’s death rate for April was 35.9, its third highest rate since at least 2016. The highest was in 2018, when April was at 61.2 per 100,000.

By comparison, Fort McMurray was lowest, at 14.9.

Here’s how the deaths break down by substance. Keep in mind that some of the people who died had multiple substances in their system, so these numbers add up to more than 46.

Non-pharmaceutical opioids3
Pharmaceutical opioids0
Methamphetamine2
Cocaine1
Alcohol0
Benzodiazepines0
Pharmaceutical opioids include drugs such as codeine, hydromorphone, methadone. Non-pharmaceutical opioids include such drugs as fentanyl, carfentanil, heroin, and designer opiates.

Lethbridge saw an average of 4.2 deaths per month in 2020 and a median of 4 deaths per month. Here’s what 2020 looks like compared to other years:

Average
deaths
Median
deaths
# months
0 deaths
20162.52.51
20171.01.01
20182.52.50
20194.040
20203.030
20214.54.50
2021 is a year-to-date, whereas all the other years are the full 12 months.

Even though April 2021 saw only the third-highest number of drug-related deaths in the last 6 years, the total number of deaths for the first 4 months of the year was 13, the highest number for the same period of any of the 6 years.

The next highest number of deaths for that same 4-month period was 13, which occurred in 2018. This record number of deaths follows a record number of deaths for the previous 4 months.

In the 4 months following the closure of the supervised consumption site (September–December), Lethbridge saw more opioid-related deaths than we saw in the same period in any of the 4 previous years:

SepOctNovDecTotalAvg
2016214292.3
2017022261.5
2018032271.8
2019120141
20203308143.5
611617402.5

In fact, the monthly average for this 4-month period was the highest average for this period of any of the previous 4 years, even before the SCS opened.

If we add up all 8 months since the SCS closed, here’s how the number of deaths compares to the same 8-month period of previous years.

TotalMedianAverage
2016–17152.01.88
2017–18192.02.38
2018–19182.02.25
2019–20162.02.00
2020–21323.54.00

Before 2020–21, the average of this 8-month period among the previous 4 years was 17. The 2020–21 death count is roughly double the previous average. As well, this most recent 8-month death count is so high, that it increased the average among all years to 20.2.

EMS responses

Lethbridge saw 47 EMS responses to opioid-related events during April and May. This is higher than the 38 we saw during the same period last yeas, but not as high as the 79 we saw in 2018. We saw a drop of 67.1% in EMS responses in January and February 2019 compared to 2018, but an increase of 46.2% in EMS responses for 2020 compared to 2019 and an increase of 23.7% this year compared to last year.

Lethbridge had the highest EMS response rate in the province in April 2021 but the third highest in May.

Local EMS responded to 288 opioid-related events per 100,000 in April and 276 per 100,000 in May. The next highest in April was Grande Prairie at 236. In May, Edmonton and Grande Prairie were both higher than Lethbridge, at 326 and 315, respectively.

Since the SCS closed down, Lethbridge has seen lower EMS response rates: 267 in September, 206 in October, 291 in November, 192 in January, 276 in February, 383 in March, 288 in April, and 276 in May. However, the EMS response rates are higher than they were during the previous 9-month period, with an average rate of 286.6, compared to 165.1 in 2019–2020. Also, at 400 responses, December saw the 3rd highest response rate since January 2018.

By Kim Siever

I live in Lethbridge with my spouse and 4 of our 6 children. I’m a writer, focusing on political news, social issues, and the occasional poem. My politics are radically left.

I’m also dichotomally Mormon. And I’m a functional vegetarian: I have a blog post about that somewhere around here. My pronouns are he/him, and I’m queer.

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