Alberta's opioid crisis response

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 to conduct needs assessments for supervised consumption services.
  4. Promote appropriate prescribing of opioids and implement 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 reducing harms associated with overdoses and deaths.

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

Impact on Albertans

Opioids and substances of misuse reports

Quarterly reports are used to assess not only fentanyl misuse, but the use/misuse of opioids and narcotics in Alberta through existing public health surveillance. Alberta Health has also committed to releasing interim reports on apparent drug overdose deaths related to fentanyl, using 6-week data.

Quarterly reports Interim reports

In 2016, 349 people died due to a drug overdose involving fentanyl in Alberta. This is much higher than in 2015 when 257 people died due a drug overdose involving fentanyl.

From October to December 2016, 117 people died due to a drug overdose involving fentanyl, compared to 52 deaths over the same time period in 2015.

Fentanyl-related deaths in Alberta

Months 2015 2016
January – March 73 70
April – June 66 81
July – September 66 81
October – December 52 117
Total 257 349

Fentanyl-related overdose deaths in Alberta 2011–2015:

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

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.


Carfentanil is a fentanyl analogue and opioid drug 10,000 times more potent than morphine and 100 times more potent than fentanyl. It is not licensed for use in humans but only for use in large animals under strict safety conditions. This very dangerous opioid is circulating in our province, was present in 30 individuals who died in Alberta in 2016, and 15 individuals who have died in 2017 year-to-date.


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.