Number of opioid deaths reported in Lethbridge increase in 2022: provincial data

The number of people dying from opioid overdoses in Lethbridge continues to climb, with the data increasing year over year.

According to provincial substance use surveillance data — which is publicly available online — 79 people died of unintentional opioid poisoning in the city last year.

That’s up from 67 deaths in 2021 and nearly double the 41 fatal overdoses in 2020. In February 2022 alone, 20 people reportedly died.

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Some harm reduction advocates point to the closure of the supervised consumption site operated by ARCHES as a factor in the fatalities.

“It’s heartbreaking to point out that this is the result that we were expecting with the closure of the supervised consumption site,” said Lethbridge lead for Moms Stop the Harm (MSTH) Lori Hatfield.

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Alberta Health Services has been operating a “temporary” mobile overdose prevention site outside the Lethbridge Shelter and Resource Centre in the years since.

AHS was not available for comment to discuss the usage of this site on Friday.

Read more: Temporary mobile overdose prevention site opens outside Lethbridge Shelter and Resource Centre

“We definitely need more services. Lethbridge is hurting,” Hatfield said, adding those seeking recovery should have options available to them. “We cannot dictate to them ‘this is the treatment you need’ so we have to operate a variety.”

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One existing service for those looking to recover from addiction is the Fresh Start Recovery Centres in Lethbridge County and Calgary.

Executive director Bruce Holstead acknowledges the tragedy of opioid deaths, but as someone who’s worked in this field for around 20 years, he believes the Alberta government has recently been making major headway around the opioid crisis.

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“Have the resources for help grown? Yes,” he said. “Have the options for people to turn to grown? Without a doubt.”

Holstead said the Lethbridge location has 23 beds, and the organization runs with a waitlist of around 130 people.

Read more: Lethbridge’s high-traffic supervised consumption site closes its doors

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The province is in the commissioning phase for a newly-built recovery community right next door to the facility, which could open in the coming months.

“It think the benefit is exponential,” Holstead said. “It’s obviously going to increase the numbers of available bed space for those seeking treatment.”

Another recovery community on the Blood Tribe is currently in the design phase.

“While each life lost to addiction is one too many, we are cautiously optimistic about the continued overall downward trend since the peak in late 2021,” read a statement from the Ministry of Mental Health and Addiction on Friday.

“Opioid overdose deaths in Alberta were down 37 per cent in January 2023 compared to the peak in 2021. In Lethbridge, they were down 20 per cent in January 2023 compared to December 2022, and 60% compared to the local peak in February 2022.”

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Albertans struggling with opioid addiction can call the Virtual Opioid Dependency Program (VODP) at 1-844-383-7688.

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