Leth. saw huge drop in drug responses last month

October 2023 saw EMS responding to less than half the number of drug responses the same time last year. This was the second 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 October 2023. Hospitalization and SCS usage data haven’t been updated beyond June 2023, and deaths haven’t been updated since August.

My last story on EMS in Lethbridge had EMS data up to September. Since then, Lethbridge EMS responded to 12 opioid-related events, which is lower than what we saw the previous month. In fact, it’s the lowest number of responses since May 2022.

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It’s also the second lowest number of calls for any October since 2018.


Here it is in graph form:

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 October’s numbers compare to all the other months since August of 2020, the last month the SCS was open.

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, at least until this past February.

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 for nearly a year. That being said, they seemed to have stabilized over the next few months, and even began declining over the last 3 months.

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


October was the second 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, September, and October 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.

Remember, as I already pointed out, that we saw a decline a year and a half ago, during the last half of 2021 and the first few months of 2022. And then we started seeing record-breaking highs. Even if we are in a period of sustained decline, it might be cyclical. Only time will tell.

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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