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Drug-related deaths in public rising in Alberta

Deaths in private residences, however, are declining.

Whitney Issik, UCP MLA for Calgary-Glenmore and the associate minister of the status of women, recently responded to a constituent, who had written to her about the government’s overdose app, which the government claims will help prevent overdoses.

In here response, which the constituent had sent to me, Issik .

The reality is that a very large percentage of opioid overdoses occur in people’s own homes. These are folks who have not and never will avail themselves of a safe consumption site. The app is one way to provide a layer of safety for opioid users. If it saves even one life I won’t view it as obscene as you do.

First of all, I found that last sentence enlightening, given that the UCP don’t seem to take the same attitude when it comes to supervised consumptions services or safe supply saving even one life.

Regardless, I decided to check out the Alberta substance use surveillance system to check the validity of this claim. Here’s what I found.

The data goes up to only June 2021, but in the second quarter of 2021, 52% of drug-related deaths occurred in the person’s own residence. In the first quarter, it was 59%. That’s an average of 55.5%.

I’m not sure I’d call that a “very large percentage”. That’s barely a majority.

Anyhow, that’s not the only point of this. There’s some more information in that data that I found interesting.

Look at this graph of the percentage of drug-related deaths that happened in a person’s home.

It seems to me that the proportion of drug-related deaths happening in a person’s home has been declining.

Here’s a look at the yearly average:

Now, again, this is comparing just the first half of 2021 with both halves of the other 3 years, so here’s a chart comparing the first half of all 4 years.

Either way you look at, overdoses appear to be happening at a person’s home at lower rate than in the past. Or, more specifically, overdose deaths are at a lower rate.

So where are the overdose deaths moving to?

Well, two locations—hotel and “other”—saw no change in 2021 compared to 2018.

There are two other locations that have seen an increase instead of a decrease.

First, there’s private residences that belongs to someone other than the person who died:

That’s the annual average. Here’s the first half average:

As you can see, overdose deaths in residences other than the person’s own has seen an noticeable increase.

The second location that saw an increase in proportion of drug-related deaths is “public”.

And here’s the average of the first half in each year.

That’s a big jump: 4.25 points in annual average and 4.5 points in the first half average. Those are the highest increases of all the locations reported by the province.

And when you consider that the number of drug-related deaths has increased over the last couple of years (as seen by the graph below), it makes this increase in public drug-related deaths all the more concerning.

And it doesn’t seem as though the 8,500 addiction treatment spaces the UCP claims to have funded are making a difference.

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By Kim Siever

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

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