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2021 has 2nd most drug deaths in Lethbridge in just 5 months

Lethbridge has seen 25 drug-related deaths so far in 2021. That beats out every other year except last year, but we’re on track to beating that, too.

Yesterday, 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 May 2021 and EMS data for June and July 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, Q4 2020, and Q1 2021).

Deaths

Lethbridge saw 7 substance-related deaths during April 2021, up from the 5 reported the previous May.

This was the highest number of deaths seen during any May between 2016 and 2021. It’s also tied for the second highest month on record with July and August last year. The highest number of recorded deaths has been 8, which was seen in July 2018, June 2020, and December 2020.

According to the 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 7 deaths in May related to substance use.

Calgary and Edmonton had, by far, more total deaths this year. Lethbridge was 3rd highest for total deaths related to substance use.

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

Lethbridge’s death rate for May was 83.9, its highest May and its fourth highest month overall since at least 2016. The highest was in 2018, when July was at 97.9 per 100,000.

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 opioids7
Pharmaceutical opioids0
Methamphetamine0
Cocaine0
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 5 deaths per month so far in 2021 and a median of 5 deaths per month. Here’s what 2021 looks like compared to other years during the same 5-month period:

Average
deaths
Median
deaths
# months
0 deaths
20162.52.51
20171.01.01
20182.52.50
20194.040
20203.030
2021550
2021 is a year-to-date, whereas all the other years are the full 12 months.

Even though May 2021 saw only the second-highest number of drug-related deaths in the last 6 years, the total number of deaths for the first 5 months of the year was 25, the highest number for the same period of any of the 6 years.

The next highest number of deaths for that same 5-month period was 17, which occurred in both 2018 and 2020. 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 9 months since the SCS closed, here’s how the number of deaths compares to the same 9-month period of previous years.

TotalMedianAverage
2016–17172.01.89
2017–18232.02.56
2018–19202.02.22
2019–20212.02.33
2020–21394.04.33

Before 2020–21, the average of this 9-month period among the previous 4 years was 20.25. The 2020–21 death count is roughly double the previous average. As well, this most recent 9-month death count is so high, that it increased the average among all years to 24.

EMS responses

The province changed their EMS reporting with this update. It is now reports EMS data weekly rather than monthly, and only actual counts, not rate. So my quarterly and monthly totals may not quite match the historical totals of my previous articles.

Lethbridge saw 39 EMS responses to opioid-related events during Jun and July. This is lowest count we’ve seen for this two-month period since 2018, and a decrease of 62.9% from the same period in 2020.

There were 69 opioid-related events during the second quarter of 2021 that EMS responded to in Lethbridge. This is down from the 80 they responded to in the first quarter, as well as down from the 84 they saw during the second quarter of last year.

In fact, it was the second lowest number of events of any of the last 4 second quarters and the seventh lowest quarter since 2018.

During the 11 months since the SCS closed down last August, Lethbridge has seen 248 opioid-related events that EMS have responded to. This is the highest number of such events during the same period over the last 3 years.

Sep 2018–Jul 2019226
Sep 2019–Jul 2020227
Sep 2020–Jul 2021248

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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