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

Dion Hrushkin, (L) Nathan Hrushkin (centre) and Francois Therrien at the Nodwell property. Photo by NCC
Twelve-year old boy finds dinosaur fossil during summer trek in Alberta’s Badlands

The find indeed marks an exciting chapter in Nathan Hrushkin’s growing fascination with palaeontology

Heart
Online sessions help participants improve heart health

Heart Wise offers effective strategies to manage cholesterol and blood pressure

Moonrise over the Castor grain elevator, a part of the Castor & District Museum, on Aug. 27th, 2020. Kevin J. Sabo photo
Castor Municipal Council approves funding of Castor Museum Project

Total cost for the project is estimated at just under $2,000

Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw updates media on the Covid-19 situation in Edmonton on Friday March 20, 2020. nbsp;Alberta is reporting it's highest daily number of COVID-19 cases, with 364 new infections. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta confirmed 323 COVID-19 cases Tuesday

Central zone active cases at 145

Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the chief medical officer of health, receive flu shot. Photo via Government of Alberta
COVID-19: One more death in central zone

Ponoka County on province’s watchlist

Conservative member of Parliament Pierre Poilievre speaks during a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on October 19, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Liberals say Tory effort to set up COVID-19 committee will be a confidence matter

The Tories were originally proposing an ‘anticorruption’ committee

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
British Columbia man dies during ski trip near glacier west of Calgary

Kananaskis Public Safety and Alpine Helicopters responded around 2:30 p.m.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, following a week-long break for the House of Commons. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
One crisis after another for Trudeau since last federal election one year ago

It has been a year of unprecedented calamity and crisis

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney arrives for an announcement at a news conference in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020.	Kenney is isolating at home after one of his ministers tested positive for COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Alberta premier isolating after minister tests positive for COVID-19

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is isolating at home

Alberta's provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa, Monday, July 6, 2020. Advisers are reportedly recommending Alberta's kindergarten to Grade 4 arts and social studies curriculum remove all references to residential schools because it's "too sad" for young children. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Advisers suggest Alberta students not learn about residential schools before Grade 4

Documents suggest children younger than Grade 4 are too emotionally vulnerable to learn about residential schools

robbery
UPDATE: Shooting suspect arrested by Wetaskiwin/Camrose RCMP

Rimbey RCMP had responded to a complaint of an armed robbery at the Bluffton City General Store

File photo
RCMP’s response to online discussions about anti-racism demonstrations

Ponoka RCMP Staff Sgt.’s comments misattributed online

Shaelynn Decock and her dog Taco, who has been missing since Aug. 26. Photo Submitted
Sylvan Lake woman looking for closure for her stolen dog

Shaelynn Decock says it has been two months since she last saw her dog Taco

Most Read