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50 drug deaths in Lethbridge since UCP govt defunded SCS

This is the highest number of deaths seen in Lethbridge during the same 12 month period over the previous 4 years.

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

The new data includes EMS responses to opioid-related events up to the week ending 24 October 2021. Death data goes to the end of August, and hospitalization and SCS usage data remain unchanged from my report in October.

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, Q1 2021, and Q2 2021).

Deaths

August saw 4 reported deaths, the second highest of any July in the last 5 years. That brings the year-to-date number of drug-related deaths to 36 for the year, the second highest number during the same period since at least 2016. The highest was last year, when we saw 38.

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 36 deaths related to substance use.

Calgary and Edmonton had, by far, more total deaths so far during the third quarter of 2021, putting Lethbridge at the 4th highest number of total deaths related to substance use between July and September (5). Grande Prairie and Red Deer was tied for 3rd most, at 6.

However, when we account for population, Lethbridge had the 4th highest death rate per 100,000 person years of the 7 communities included in the data.

Lethbridge’s Q3 2021 death rate was 29.95 per 100,000 person years. Edmonton had the highest death rate, at 67.3, followed by Medicine Hat (51.7) and Grande Prairie (47.2).

Here’s how the Lethbridge 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.

SubstanceJul
2021
Aug
2021
Sep
2021
Q3
2021
Non-pharmaceutical opioids14NA5
Pharmaceutical opioids00NA0
Methamphetamine10NA1
Cocaine00NA0
Alcohol00NA0
Benzodiazepines00NA0
Pharmaceutical opioids include drugs such as codeine, hydromorphone, methadone. Non-pharmaceutical opioids include such drugs as fentanyl, carfentanil, heroin, and designer opiates.

The first 7 months of 2021 reported so far saw an average of 4.5 deaths per month and a median of 4.5 deaths per month. Here’s what 2021 looks like compared to other years:

Average
deaths
Median
deaths
# months
0 deaths
20161.5012
20171.7523
20183.0831
20191.751.52
20204.3341
20214.54.50
Note: 2021 is still missing data for August through December.

2021, so far, has been the only year in the reporting period that has reported substance-related deaths every month.

The highest month this year so far was May, which saw 7 deaths, the highest May on record and the second highest number of any month on record.

The supervised consumption site operated by Lethbridge ARCHES shut down at the end of August 2020.

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 12 months since the SCS closed, here’s how the number of deaths compares to the same 12-month period of previous years.

TotalMedianAverage
2016–17242.02.00
2017–18362.53.00
2018–19242.02.00
2019–20423.03.50
2020–21504.04.17

Before 2020–21, the average of this 12-month period among the previous 4 years was 31.5. The 2020–21 death count is over 1.5 times that average. As well, this most recent 12-month death count is so high, that it increased the average among all years to 35.2.

EMS responses

My last story on drug usage in Lethbridge had EMS data up to the week ending 20 September. Since then, Lethbridge EMS responded to 35 opioid-related events during the last week of September and the first three weeks of October.

The 35 opioid-related events that the EMS responded to in September was the most ever seen in any September since 2018. And October so far has seen the third highest number, although data goes until only 24 October.

SepOct
20181828
20191610
20201415
20213522

October 2021 stats are for 3 weeks. The other Octobers are for 4 weeks.

Not only that, but the third quarter of 2021 saw the most EMS responses to opioid-related events than any other third quarter since 2018. In fact, it was the most of any quarter at all during that period.

2018201920202021
Q172553280
Q2114488469
Q37754112136
Q47739730

That makes two quarters this year that have been record breaking.

As well, during the 12 months since the SCS closed down last August, Lethbridge has seen 337 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–Aug 2019236
Sep 2019–Aug 2020269
Sep 2020–Aug 2021337

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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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