Alberta Premier Jason Kenney shakes hands with Jason Luan, associate minister of mental health and addictions after being sworn into office in Edmonton on April 30, 2019. Alberta Health says 449 people have died from opioid overdoses in the province during the first six months of this year. The numbers, which were released today in the second quarter Opioid Response Surveillance Report, show 301 of those deaths happened between April and June 2020. Associate Minister Jason Luan says the COVID-19 pandemic has led to increased fear and anxiety, isolation and job uncertainty. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

Hundreds die from opioid overdoses in Alberta as COVID-19 pandemic hit

Jason Luan said the province is not alone in seeing a rise in deaths,

Alberta Health says 449 people died from opioid overdoses in the province during the first six months of this year.

The numbers, which were released Wednesday in the second-quarter Opioid Response Surveillance Report, show 301 of those deaths happened between April and June 2020.

“Beginning in March 2020, the number of harms associated with opioid use began to increase significantly, reaching record levels not previously seen,” said the report. “This sharp rise was in conjunction with a decrease in the utilization of treatment and harm reduction services.”

Jason Luan, associate minister of Mental Health and Addictions, said in a news release that the COVID-19 pandemic has led to increased fear and anxiety, isolation and job uncertainty.

“This has exacerbated the struggles of many Albertans, including those struggling with substance use,” he said.

Luan said the province is not alone in seeing a rise in deaths, noting British Columbia also reported similar findings and trends during the first few months of the pandemic.

Elaine Hyshka, an assistant professor at the School of Public Health at the University of Alberta, said she expected to see more deaths in Alberta based on trends in other provinces, but not so many more.

“To see 301 deaths in a three-month period is staggering,” said Hyshka, noting the previous record in the province was 211 deaths in three months.

She said COVID-19 is definitely playing a role.

“We’ve heard and seen growing evidence of disruptions in illegal drug supply in terms of border closures and other factors that are leading to more dangerous drugs for sale on the streets,” she said. “We’ve also seen reductions in the number of people seeking care in harm reduction services and treatment clinics.”

She added, however, that the Alberta government has also shifted away from a co-ordinated public health response to the overdose epidemic.

“I worry that the impacts that that has had on harm reduction services like supervised consumption sites, on treatment programs … is also taking a toll,” said Hyshka.

“These deaths are 100 per cent preventable.”

The Opposition NDP said the dramatic rise in the number of preventable deaths in 2020 reverses a downward trend from the middle of 2018.

“These are shocking numbers,” Heather Sweet, the critic for mental health and addiction, said in a statement. “More Albertans have died from an opioid overdose in the last three months than in the entirety of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Alberta Health has reported a total of 260 deaths from the novel coronavirus.

Sweet said the single most important responsibility of any government is to protect human life, but Alberta’s United Conservative government “is turning away from scientific evidence and medical best practices and returning to a failed ‘War on Drugs’ approach.”

Luan said the government’s focus on recovery-oriented services seemed to be having a positive impact prior to the pandemic and noted it has since put money into mental health and addiction recovery supports.

Colette Derworiz, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta has 3,651 active cases of COVID-19. (File photo)
432 new COVID cases sets another record Friday

Central zone holds steady at 126 active cases

Ma & Paws Pet Supplies. Facebook/ Ma & Paws Pet Supplies.
Rimbey residents petition for dog park

Request for approval of dog park will be brought up at Tuesday Oct. 27 Town Council meeting.

The future site of the Rimbey Travel Centre. Web photo
New Rimbey development aims to capitalize on highway traffic

Phase I of the Rimbey Travel Centre would be along Hwy. 20, if approved

"We are looking seriously at the spread and determining what our next steps should be," says Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, as the daily number of COVID-19 cases continues to climb.
427 new COVID cases is highest in Alberta ever

Central zone has 126 active cases of COVID-19

soup
Rimbey FCSS to introduce the Cultural Community Kitchen

The Cultural Community Kitchen sessions will be held at the Rimbey Co-op

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson, B.C. NDP leader John Horgan and B.C. Greens leader Sonia Furstenau. (Black Press Media)
VIDEO: One day until B.C. voters go to the polls in snap election defined by pandemic

NDP Leader John Horgan’s decision to call an election comes more than a year ahead of schedule and during a pandemic

Comedic actor Seth Rogen, right, and business partner Evan Goldberg pose in this undated handout photo. When actor Seth Rogen was growing up and smoking cannabis in Vancouver, he recalls there was a constant cloud of shame around the substance that still lingers. Rogen is determined to change that. (Maarten de Boer ohoto)
Seth Rogen talks about fighting cannabis stigma, why pot should be as accepted as beer

‘I smoke weed all day and every day and have for 20 years’

Leader of the Opposition Erin O’Toole rises during Question Period in the House of Commons Thursday October 22, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
O’Toole tells Alberta UCP AGM Liberals were ‘late and confused’ on COVID response

He says Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has taken charge and not waited to make things happen

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney arrives for an announcement at a news conference in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Inquiry into oil and gas foes to deliver report next year: Kenney

A lawsuit filed by environmental law firm Ecojustice argues the inquiry is politically motivated

The Canadian border is pictured at the Peace Arch Canada/USA border crossing in Surrey, B.C. Friday, March 20, 2020. More than 4.6 million people have arrived in Canada since the border closed last March and fewer than one-quarter of them were ordered to quarantine while the rest were deemed “essential” and exempted from quarantining. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Majority of international travellers since March deemed ‘essential’, avoid quarantine

As of Oct. 20, 3.5 million travellers had been deemed essential, and another 1.1 million were considered non-essential

This photo provided by Air Force Reserve shows a sky view of Hurricane Epsilon taken by Air Force Reserve hurricane hunter team over the Atlantic Ocean taken Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020.   Epsilon’s maximum sustained winds have dropped slightly as it prepares to sideswipe Bermuda on a path over the Atlantic Ocean.  The National Hurricane Center says it should come close enough Thursday, Oct. 22, evening to merit a tropical storm warning for the island.  (Air Force Reserve via AP)
Hurricane Epsilon expected to remain offshore but will push waves at Atlantic Canada

Epsilon is not expected to have any real impact on land

A voter places her absentee ballot in the ballot box, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, at Merrill Auditorium in Portland, Maine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Robert F. Bukaty
American voters living in Canada increasingly being counted in presidential race

The largest number of Canadian-based American voters cast their ballots in New York and California

A composite image of three photographs shows BC NDP Leader John Horgan, left, in Coquitlam, B.C., on Sept. 25, 2020; BC Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau, centre, in Victoria on Sept. 24, 2020; and BC Liberal Party Leader Andrew Wilkinson Pitt Meadows, B.C., on Sept. 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck, Chad Hipolito
British Columbia votes in snap election called during COVID-19 pandemic

NDP Leader John Horgan called the snap election one year before the fixed voting date

Nunavut's provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa, on Tuesday June 30, 2020. The annual report from Nunavut's representative for children and youth says "complacency and a lack of accountability" in the territory's public service means basic information about young people needing services isn’t tracked. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Nunavut’s young people ‘should be expecting more’ from government services: advocate

‘The majority of information we requested is not tracked or was not provided by departments’

Most Read