Potent drugs, limited places to go contributing to overdose spike in Edmonton, says Boyle Street Community Services


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The combination of warmer weather, potent drugs and limited places for people to go is creating a “perfect storm” for a spike in overdoses in Edmonton, Boyle Street Community Services says.

On Thursday, Alberta Health Services (AHS) issued an alert after emergency medical services responded to 55 opioid-related calls in the Edmonton Zone over between May 31 and June 1.

Naloxone, a medication used to block the effects of opioids, had been administered at 50 of those responses and 34 people were taken to hospital.

Elliott Tanti, communications manager for Boyle Street Community Services, said Friday the alert reinforces what teams who respond to overdoses have been witnessing recently.

“On Wednesday morning before noon, a team had responded to 10 overdoses around the building,” Tanti said. “It used to feel really bad and dangerous when we get two in the same day.”

He said in addition to the number of overdoses, the severity and level of danger has also increased. With indoor capacity limits due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s fewer spaces for people to go to use safely.


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“There’s more people out and about in the community using outside in alleys, behind dumpsters, and those are really dangerous situations to be in,” Tanti said.

“What we’re seeing, and evidenced by the number of overdoses and what’s going on, is just a dramatic increase in the strength of the drugs right now. That’s a contributing factor as well that we’re seeing on the ground.”

Tanti also noted this week has been particularly traumatic for some in the community following the news confirming a mass grave of 215 Indigenous children at a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.

“A lot of our folks use substances to dull pain and dull pain associated with residential schools, and this is a stark reminder,” he said.

“That’s a contributing factor as well, too. Is it the most influential? Probably not. Is that even measurable? No, but there’s a number of factors that are contributing to this right now that are having a significant impact. I would call it a perfect storm.”

Following the suspected overdose deaths of three men in a central Edmonton park in May, Boyle Street executive director Jordan Reiniger called for an emergency action plan to address the crisis.

Since then, Tanti said there have been productive conversations with the province and the city.

“We are seeing some meaningful steps being taken to address one of the largest gaps here, which is access to data, because that’s the information we need to deploy resources in effective ways,” Tanti said.

In a statement Friday, Mayor Don Iveson said he’s very concerned about the spike in overdoses and preventable deaths. He said all levels of government need to work together, focusing on harm reduction first while enhancing supports for treatment and recovery.


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“This, too, is a public health crisis, and more investment and focus is needed, which includes expanding access to safe consumption sites, especially in areas of the city where overdoses are concentrated, continued clean-needle distribution, and increasing community access to naloxone,” Iveson said.

Tanti also noted there were concerns earlier in the week about the number of Naloxone kits available due to the increasing overdoses, but following conversations with AHS, they have since been allayed.

Justin Marshall, spokesman for associate minister for mental health and addictions Jason Luan, said there is no shortage of Naloxone kits but they are aware of increased demand for them in the city.

“Alberta Health Services distributed 1,100 additional kits this week to Edmonton community agencies in the downtown core to ensure access is readily available,” Marshall said in a statement.

“Each month AHS distributes on average 12,000 naloxone kits to over 2,000 sites across the province, including to community agencies, pharmacies and AHS sites.”

Support and resources are available through the Addiction Helpline at 1-866-332-2322, or the Mental Health Helpline, at 1-877-303-2642.




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