Fentanyl and the take-home naloxone program

Alberta’s opioid crisis response

Working closely with other Alberta government ministries, health experts, community groups, parent advocates, law enforcement, and the medical community, the Chief Medical Officer of Health is leading a collaborative and coordinated provincial response, focused on four key areas:

  1. Improve the collection and publishing of data to better target interventions.
  2. Expand access to opioid replacement therapy.
  3. Fund community agencies in their application process for supervised consumption services.
  4. Improve prescription drug monitoring and implementing new tools to prevent prescription drug misuse in partnership with the College of Physicians & Surgeons of Alberta.

As Alberta continues to move forward with a provincial response to this opioid crisis, it’s critical that we remain focused on harm reduction.

When combined with prevention, treatment, and enforcement, a broad spectrum of hard reduction approaches will help decrease harmful consequences of drug use, while recognizing that individuals will continue to use drugs.

The impact on Albertans

Alberta, like many provinces, has seen a rapid rise in fentanyl-related overdose deaths over the past few years.

From January – September 2016, 338 Albertans died from an apparent drug overdose related to fentanyl or another opioid; 193 of these deaths were related to fentanyl. This compares to 205 fentanyl-related deaths during the first nine months of 2015.

In 2016, there were 193 deaths related to fentanyl (January 1 – September, 2016):

  • 65 in the first quarter
  • 81 in the second quarter
  • 47 in the third quarter

By comparison, in 2015 (January 1 – September, 2015) there were 205 deaths related to fentanyl:

  • 73 in the first quarter
  • 66 in the second quarter
  • 66 in the third quarter

The majority of deaths (89% in 2016 and 83% in 2015) have occurred in larger urban centers.

Fentanyl-related overdose deaths in Alberta 2011–2015:

  • 2015: 257
  • 2014: 117
  • 2013: 66
  • 2012: 29
  • 2011: 6

The rate of emergency department visits related to opioid use and substance misuse increased by 84% from the first quarter of 2014 to the second quarter of 2016.

This rise in fentanyl overdoses is part of a pattern that has been seen across Canada. The Canadian Community Epidemiology Network on Drug Use has tracked this pattern in a bulletin from August 2015: Deaths Involving Fentanyl in Canada, 2009–2014.

Disclaimer

The majority of data presented includes the most recent quarterly data available. Data sources are updated at differing time periods. Recent data may be less complete due to delays in data submission. Data may change in later reporting as it is submitted by facilities and pharmacies. Mortality data is subject to change as the investigation and certification of deaths, done by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, involves detailed case review and toxicological assessments. As a result, the number of apparent drug overdose deaths related to fentanyl, or other opioids, may change (including increases/decreases in previous numbers) as certification of cause of death may lead to a change in classification in some instances.

Treatment

Expanding access to treatment for people who are struggling with opioid dependency is a priority for Alberta Health and our partners.

Alberta Health and Alberta Health Services are working together to expand treatment options, including:

  • opening new treatment clinics
  • expanding access to support services such as counselling, and
  • improving access to substitution therapy using methadone or suboxone.   

To facilitate these efforts, Alberta Health recently provided a $3 million grant to Alberta Health Services to implement an opioid dependency expansion project. Additional details on this project will be available soon.

If you are concerned about your own or someone else’s use of fentanyl or other drugs, help is available. Please call Health Link 811 for advice and information.