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Alberta set new high for opioid deaths in 2023

Alberta’s latest substance-use numbers show the province had its highest opioid-related death totals on record in 2023.

The report shows 1,867 people died from opioid-related causes. Edmonton and Calgary also set new highs last year.

“(I’m) sad, upset, but not surprised,” said Petra Schulz, co-founder of Moms Stop the Harm. “Everybody is subject to the toxic drug supply.”

“While the amount of people losing their lives to addiction is concerning, we are cautiously optimistic about the downward trend in the first two months of 2024,” said Hunter Baril, a spokesperson for the ministry of mental health and addiction, in a statement to Global News.

There have been 237 opioid-related deaths in Alberta through the first two months of 2024.

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Schulz said she wants to see that over a longer period before she shares any optimism.

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“Sometimes we see less risky substances coming through. It could just be the supply.”

Schulz is calling on the province to implement more harm reduction measures.

“Expand consumption services again,” Schulz said. “We need to provide more public education on how to stay safe. We also need to look at providing regulated alternatives for people who are at risk from toxic supply.”

Janet Eremenko, NDP mental health and addictions critic, is also calling on the province to change course.

“Despite these record-breaking figures, the UCP continues to double down on their one-size-fits-all approach to addiction,” Eremenko said in a statement.

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“It clearly is not good enough.”

The province says it’s building a system of care supporting recovery.

“In the past year, we have opened doors to two world-class treatment centres in Red Deer and Lethbridge,” Baril said. “We are building nine more of these facilities, five of which are in direct partnership with Indigenous communities across the province.”

He also mentioned the Virtual Opioid Dependency Program.

Schulz said care needs to begin long before the recovery stage.

“While recovery, offering evidence based voluntary treatment is so important, we have to make sure they stay alive and well to get there,” Schulz said.

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