Leth EMS drug responses see huge drop in Sept.

September 2023 saw EMS responding to almost half the number of drug responses. This was the first time this year the numbers dropped below 30.

The Government of Alberta recently updated the data on the Alberta substance use surveillance system, which it uses to communicate information about substance use in the province.

The new data includes EMS responses to opioid-related events up to the end of September 2023. Hospitalization and SCS usage data haven’t been updated beyond June 2023, and deaths haven’t been updated since July.

My last story on EMS in Lethbridge had EMS data up to August. Since then, Lethbridge EMS responded to 18 opioid-related events, which is lower than what we saw the previous month. In fact, it’s the lowest number of responses this year.

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That being said, it’s still tied for the third highest number of calls for any September since 2018.


Here it is in graph form:

Last month’s numbers tied the previous third highest spot of 18, set in 2018 (the same year the supervised consumption site opened).

Keep in mind that since the EMS drug response data is weekly, it will contain data for only 4 weeks, which means the last few days may be left out. Since the data for August went up to only the 25th, drug responses for the period of August 29–31 will be included in next month’s data.

During the first 12 months after the SCS closed down in August 2020, Lethbridge saw 337 opioid-related events that EMS responded to. This was the highest number of such events during the same period over those first 4 years.

Sep 2018–Aug 2019236
Sep 2019–Aug 2020269
Sep 2020–Aug 2021337
Sep 2021–Aug 2022322
Sep 2022–Aug 2023441

In the first 12 months after the SCS was closed due to the UCP government cancelling funding, Lethbridge EMS responded to an average of 28.1 drug responses a month, up from 22.4 during the same 12-month period the previous year. They also increased from 5.2 responses per week, on average, to 6.5 per week.

During the second year after the SCS was shut down, we saw 322 EMS responses to drug events.

While that’s less than the 337 we saw between September 2020 and August 2021, it’s the second highest number seen during the same period over those first 4 years.

With August’s data finally complete, we can finally compare three full years since the Alberta government effectively shut down the SCS. Here are the monthly and weekly averages of EMS drug responses are on the rise.


And that makes sense, since we saw the highest number of EMS drug responses between any September through August period since 2018–2019.

Sep 2018–Aug 2019236
Sep 2019–Aug 2020269
Sep 2020–Aug 2021337
Sep 2021–Aug 2022322
Sep 2022–Aug 2023441

That’s the first time Lethbridge has passed the 400 mark in this reporting period.

Here’s how September’s to all the other months since August of 2020.

As you can see, the number of drug responses that the Lethbridge EMS were responding to began to decline in the latter half of 2021, but then the trend reversed last summer, with increases nearly every month since June of last year.

It’s more obvious when we chart the 3-month moving average over the last 3 years.

It’s pretty obvious that the numbers had been on the rise over the last year. That being said, they seem to have stabilized over the last 5 months or, although they are still much higher than they were early last year during the decline

Here’s a look at all the months on record.


September was the firs month to fall below 30 this year. In 2022, there were 9 months below 30.

We’ll have to see if the declines in August and September are the start of a downward trend or simply outliers, but we won’t know that until we get a few more months of data.

One thing to keep in mind when reading these statistics is that just because EMS are responding to these drug events doesn’t necessarily mean these were the only drug events.

For example, if more people are carrying naloxone on them or more groups outfitted with naloxone (such as SAGE Clan) are patrolling public areas where people are using drugs, they may attend to overdoses and see such success that EMS is never called.

So, the actual number of drug events occuring in the city last month could have been higher.

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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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