Spike in opioid-related calls in Edmonton a ‘drug poisoning emergency,’ expert says


The overdose crisis in Edmonton is showing no signs of slowing, with emergency medical services receiving more than 100 opioid-related calls in the city in a week.

“This is an emergency,” said Ellen Hisshka, an assistant professor in the University of Alberta’s School of Public Health and an expert in the opioid epidemic.

“There’s no clear way to tell, like, we’re facing a drug poisoning emergency. We’re losing at least four Albertans a day to an overdose of deaths.”

In a statement to the U.S., Alberta Health Services said they received 139 opioid-related EMS calls in Edmonton from July 12 to 18.

In June, increase in volume inspired call to action To many from the community for mitigating the ongoing crisis.

According to Canadian government research, while opioid-related deaths have increased across the country, the Western Provinces Saw the most impact.

Hyshka believes a recent overdose is not an opioid crisis, but a “drug poisoning emergency.”

“What we are seeing now is that the illicit drug market as a whole has become contaminated with highly toxic drugs, including fentanyl and other analogs, but also other substances.”

Judith Gayle at the Bear Klan Patrol Beaver Hill House also mentioned the harmful supply of drugs currently running.

“The borders are closed, so the drug channel is closed,” Gayle said. “And so people at home are trying to make their own medicines and they don’t know anything about it. So they’re not making very good drugs. That’s why it’s killing people.”

Gail said on her patrol that she sees at least 10 people a day who end up in the ER due to drug overdoses.

‘Disappointing’ response to emergency

Hyshka thinks the public health response to the emergency is not adequate.

“It may surprise many Albertans and many Edmontonians to learn that in 2020 more people died of drug poisoning in our province than those who died of COVID-19,” she said. “And yet the drug poisoning crisis is not discussed or talked about.

“We don’t have regular updates from the Chief Medical Officer of Health about the situation. We don’t have any kind of work group or task force that can respond effectively and support people and their families.

“It’s really, quite frankly, disheartening to see the opposite when there is a motivation to address an emergency,” Hyshka said.

While she applauds the province for increasing access to treatments such as drugs, counseling or residential treatment programs, Hayashka said these services are not helpful to those who live before they have had a chance to access them.

Hyshka said it’s important for people to find alternatives to the illegal drug market.

Gail works with the Bear Clan, also a component of harm reduction, meant to provide people with safer alternatives like clean needles and alcohol swabs.

It also means ensuring and supporting the most vulnerable in areas with high overdose counts, she said.

“That’s why we always have to go out there and keep an eye on our brothers and sisters,” Gayle said.

“We patrol the streets and we wake anyone up, if we see them sleeping or lying on the ground, to make sure they are alive and have a pulse, and that they know Where they are, they are consistent.

“We never let a man down. We’re always with someone until … we can’t find an ambulance or people to help them.”

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