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

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)
750 new COVID-19 cases identified in Alberta Sunday

Central zone currently has 1,182 active cases of the virus

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine deliveres to Canada are being delayed because of complications at their European distribution facility. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Delays of Pfizer vaccine delivery to impact Alberta’s vaccination plans

Alberta has administered 74,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine so far

blessing
Bentley Blessing Pantry continues to faithfully serve the community

‘We just wanted to make everyone aware that we are still here to serve you throughout this coming year.’

A scene from “Canada and the Gulf War: In their own words,” a video by The Memory Project, a program of Historica Canada, is shown in this undated illustration. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Historica Canada
New video marks Canada’s contributions to first Gulf War on 30th anniversary

Veterans Affairs Canada says around 4,500 Canadian military personnel served during the war

Lacombe is looking at its options for reclaiming sewage lagoons that are no longer needed. Vesta Energy Ltd. has signed a deal to use three lagoons to store water for fracking.
Map from City of Lacombe
Energy company to use former Lacombe sewage lagoons to store water for fracking

Vesta Energy Ltd. will pay Lacombe more than $100,000 a year in 20-year deal

Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said on Monday that11 more people had died from COVID-19, bringing the province’s death toll to 1,447. (Photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Eleven more Albertans die from COVID-19

There were 739 people in hospital, 120 in ICU on Monday

World Juniors’ referee Mike Langin makes a called during the Canada vs. Slovakia at the 2021 World Junior Championship at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Dec. 27, 2020. (Photo by Matthew Murnaghan/Hockey Canada)
Former Sylvan Lake man lives his dream at World Junior Championships

Mike Langin was one the 25 Canadian officials who worked during the tournament

Indigenous people gather for a ceremony for Cindy Gladue held at the courthouse in Edmonton, Alta, on Wednesday, January 13, 2021. Bradley Barton, a 52-year-old long-haul truck driver from Ontario on trial for manslaughter, is accused of killing Gladue. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
People stand in support of mother as new trial gets underway in death of Cindy Gladue

Bradley Barton, a long-haul truck driver from Ontario, will now be tried for manslaughter in the 2011 death

(Photo submitted)
RCMP say ice climber seriously injured after reportedly falling 12 metres near Abraham Lake

Police say man’s injuries were serious but not life-threatening

U.S. military units march in front of the Capitol, Monday, Jan. 18, 2021 in Washington, as they rehearse for President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration ceremony, which will be held at the Capitol on Wednesday. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Biden aims for unifying speech at daunting moment for U.S.

President Donald Trump won’t be there to hear it

Facebook/ The Open Door 24/7 Integrated Response Hub- Wetaskiwin.
Wetaskiwin residents show support for 24/7 Integrated Response Hub

Wetaskiwin residents and City Council members showed support for Hub with positive signs.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa on December 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
No place for ‘far right’ in Conservative Party, Erin O’Toole says

O’Toole condemned the Capitol attack as ‘horrifying’ and sought to distance himself and the Tories from Trumpism

Most Read