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City of Edmonton spent more than $9M in 2023 responding to drug poisonings, overdoses

The City of Edmonton spent just over $9 million addressing the drug poisoning crisis in 2023, costs municipal leaders say shouldn’t be theirs to carry.  

A memo sent to city council shows the breakdown of costs to city departments as well as grants and subsidies given to social service agencies. 

Last year, Edmonton Fire Rescue Services responded to more than 10,000 calls of overdoses and drug poisonings, costing the city about $4.3 million. 

The number of calls saw a nearly 50 per cent increase from 2022 and almost 800 per cent increase from calls in 2018. 

The city spent $2.9 million in 2022 for fire rescue to deal with 6,858 calls and $477,282 in 2018 for crews to respond to 1,131 calls. 

Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said that the city is paying for services that should fall under provincial health care purview: mental health, addictions, treatment and recovery.

“That’s a direct cost to Edmonton property owners,” Sohi said in an interview this week. “Fire service is funded through property taxes, because it’s a municipal service.”

The city shouldn’t be paying for fire crews to respond to health-related calls, he said. 

“So downloading is impacting property taxes. Our property taxes are funding provincial services that we should not be funding. They should be funded through income tax.”

Municipal peace officers and security guards also dealt with 5,877 calls in 2023, with a $1.3 million price tag. 

This amount does not include overtime or equipment and supply costs, the memo noted. 

Province willing to talk

Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver acknowledged that responding to addictions is within provincial jurisdiction of health care administration, but he would talk to the city if requested. 
“It’s their decision,” McIver told CBC News this week. “If they want to talk about that, I’ll be always happy to talk to them about it.”

McIver said the city would likely have to submit a request in 2025 for compensation, as this year’s provincial budget is pending approval. 

A red fire truck half coming out of a garage.
Fire services spent $4.3M responding to 10,000 calls last year. (Supplied/City of Edmonton)

“When municipalities are asking for more money, they’re doing their job right,” McIver added.  

Keren Tang, councillor for Ward Karhiio, said the 2023 price tag is actually less what what she expects is the real cost. 

“I think there’s also a lot … [of perhaps] unaccounted for like staff time that’s not part of the $9.1 million,” she said in an in interview this week. “I think it’s much more than what is on paper.” 

Tang said even the numbers on paper emphasize how big the opioid and drug poisoning crisis is.

“I think this should be probably one of the biggest priorities that our province should be looking at, working with municipalities,” she said. “And we should be working much better, closer together than we are now.”

The memo also shows amounts the city gave to agencies in grants and subsidies. 

The city spent $1.1 million last year on mental health and suicide prevention efforts, funding 21 community mental health projects that support awareness and increase access to counselling and well-being services.

The city gave Boyle Street Community Services more than $1.6 million in one-time funding for overdose response and prevention teams of trained medical professionals and outreach workers. 

Elliott Tanti, a spokesperson for Boyle Street, said the agency received funding from all three levels of government, private donors and various associations and foundations totalling nearly $34.5 million. 

“Given the challenges that we are seeing related to the toxic drug supply, all programs and services that we provide in community require an overdose response and recovery component,” Tanti wrote in an email. 

“Partnering with all levels of government and other sector leaders and advocates is central to helping those we serve meet their goals.”

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