Alberta sees record numbers of opioid-related EMS calls

Alberta’s EMS data for 2021 is nearly 50% higher than last year’s, and the year isn’t even over yet.

Last week, Alberta Health Services reported that Alberta’s largest cities have seen a recent spike in opioid-related responses from emergency medical services staff.

AHS claimed that the numbers were “higher than average”, and while that’s true, that’s honestly an understatement.

The AHS media release claimed that Calgary saw 85 opioid-related EMS responses between 29 November and 5 December. According to the province’s substance use surveillance system, the year-to date average for 2021 is only 39, and the average for November was 51.

So, while it is true that the most recent data shows Calgary at higher-than-average responses, those 85 opioid-related events that EMS responses are also the highest level seen in any week this year. In fact, since the province started recording EMS responses to opioid-related events, this is the first time that Calgary has hit 85 responses in one week, a record high.

And the story isn’t much better for Edmonton.

In the media release, AHS reported that the province’s second largest city saw 140 calls during the same week as Calgary’s 85 calls (although the surveillance data said 141). That’s 83,5% higher than the number of calls Calgary saw, despite having 400,000 fewer residents.

This isn’t the highest number of calls that EMS have responded to this year in Edmonton, however, having seen 162 this past July. It is the second highest this year. It’s also the second highest since 2018.

By comparison, Edmonton saw an average of 83 EMS responses to opioid-related events in 2021 and 89 in November.

These record number of calls in the two cities are the driving force behind EMS calls for opioid-related events being at an all time high throughout the province in general.

Alberta saw 273 opioid-related EMS calls in general between 29 November and 5 December, the highest ever seen in the province.

The provincial average for 2021 so far is 159 calls per week. For November alone, it was 191. That means that the most recent spike in opioid-related EMS calls in Alberta is 71.7% higher than the 2021 average and 42.9% higher than the November average.

The remaining 47 calls were split between Lethbridge (9), Grande Prairie (3), Medicine Hat (3), Fort McMurray (2), Red Deer (2) and other unnamed locations (19).

Here is how the number of provincial EMS calls look over the last 4 years.

Here are the same numbers but as monthly totals:

And finally, the yearly totals:

Remember, 2021’s data goes to only the end of November. This year’s data could end up much higher, especially if the reported spike continues.

AHS’s statement of the spike was overshadowed last week by the provincial government’s announcement that they had funded 8,500 addiction treatment spaces since being elected.

It doesn’t seem as though this new funding is preventing addiction.

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent queer journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news articles, focusing on politics and labour.

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