Alberta has experienced a significant decline in opioid-related deaths in recent months. In July, opioid-related deaths decreased 47 per cent since the peak in late 2021. This continues the downward trend that has been seen over a number of months in Alberta.
“While every life lost to addiction is one too many, the steady decline in opioid deaths in Alberta is a positive sign and we are optimistic it will continue. Now is the time to redouble our efforts to make it as easy as possible for Albertans to pursue recovery from addiction. We will continue working tirelessly to address the addiction crisis, reduce deaths even further, and make treatment and recovery as accessible as possible.”
Fatality data breakdown
In July 2022, there were 92 opioid-related deaths in the province, the lowest number of opioid-related fatalities on record since April 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic.
This is a decrease of eight per cent month over month from June 2022, and a decrease of 47 per cent since the peak in late 2021.
In Calgary, opioid-related fatalities peaked in February 2022 (62) and decreased by 53 per cent in July 2022 (29). In Edmonton, opioid deaths peaked in December 2021 (69) and decreased by 42 per cent in July 2022 (40). Every major city in Alberta has seen a significant decrease since their respective peak.
Decreases in health service utilization
The six-week average for EMS calls that includes July decreased 39 per cent year over year. The six-week period from the end of June to the beginning of August 2021 saw 1,377 opioid-related EMS responses. The same time period in 2022 saw 838 opioid-related EMS responses.
Emergency department visits and hospitalizations as a result of opioids have dropped significantly since their peak. Emergency department visits are down 33 per cent in the second quarter of 2022 (2,801) compared to the third quarter of 2021 (4,154), and hospitalizations are down 31 per cent in the second quarter of 2022 (908) compared to the fourth quarter of 2021 (1,321).
It is worth noting that alcohol, not opioids, continues to be the greatest driver of substance-related emergency department visits and hospitalizations. In the second quarter of 2022, alcohol accounted for 10,200 emergency department visits and 2,902 hospitalizations, more than three times opioid-related visits.
Access to life-saving medications
Alberta’s government fully supports the use of opioid agonist treatment (OAT) medications to treat opioid use disorder. OAT medications are effective and evidence-based, helping to reduce or eliminate withdrawal symptoms.
The second quarter of 2022 saw more people prescribed OAT medications in Alberta. More than 7,600 Albertans are accessing Suboxone, the gold standard in opioid treatment medication. Use of Sublocade, the 30-day injectable version of Suboxone, is also increasing, with almost 900 Albertans accessing this innovative medication, almost five times as many since additional funding was announced in 2021.
Alberta Health Services Opioid Dependency clinics, including the award-winning Virtual Opioid Dependency Program, saw nearly 3,700 clients in June 2022.
Taking action to respond to the opioid crisis
With the help of health-care professionals, first responders and community organizations, Alberta’s government continues to urgently respond to the addiction crisis and implement a recovery-oriented system of care. The Alberta model is community-based and focused on increasing access to a coordinated network of services, including prevention, early intervention, harm reduction, treatment and recovery supports.
Here are some of our recent actions:
- Establishing 8,000 new publicly funded spaces for addiction treatment, detox and recovery.
- Making residential addiction treatment free for Albertans by eliminating daily user fees.
- Building recovery communities to provide holistic treatment to individuals experiencing addiction. Recovery communities are currently underway in Red Deer, Lethbridge, Gunn and on the Blood Tribe First Nation.
- Implementing new standards for supervised consumption services to improve the quality of services offered and ensure clients are better connected to the health-care system.
- Launching the Digital Overdose Response System app, a harm reduction tool that helps summon emergency services when people use opioids and other substances alone.
- Expanding access to OAT medications to help manage withdrawal symptoms, including fully covering the cost of the injectable opioid treatment drug Sublocade.
- Providing treatment on demand for people with opioid addiction through the Virtual Opioid Dependency Program. Albertans anywhere in the province can get same-day access to evidence-based OAT medications with no wait list and no fees.
- Working with police services across the province to offer anyone who has been arrested immediate access to opioid addiction treatment and an addiction medicine physician.
- In July 2022, there were 92 opioid deaths in the province, a 47 per cent decrease from the peak in late 2021. It was also the lowest number of opioid-related fatalities since April 2020.
- In July 2022, the per 100,000 person year rate of opioid deaths in Alberta was 24.4, compared to 43.8 in British Columbia.
- Overall, the provincial rate of opioid overdose deaths in 2022 in Alberta is 33.5 per 100,000 person years, which is eight per cent lower than 2021 (36.4).
- Opioid-related fatalities can be found on the Alberta Substance Use Surveillance System, the most comprehensive data reporting tool of its kind in the country.
- Albertans experiencing addiction can contact 211 Alberta for information on resources available in their communities.