Lethbridge EMS drug responses rising since last summer

Lethbridge EMS responded to the second highest number of drug-related events last month than in any other month so far this year.

Last week, the Government of Alberta 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 July 2023. Hospitalization and SCS usage data haven’t been updated beyond March 2022, and deaths haven’t been updated since May.

My last story on EMS in Lethbridge had EMS data up to June. Since then, Lethbridge EMS responded to 44 opioid-related events, which is higher than what we saw the previous month. In fact, it’s the highest number of responses since February, when the city saw 49 responses.

This is the third highest number of calls for July, compared to the previous 5 years.


Here it is in graph form:

Last month’s numbers broke the previous third highest spot of 35, set in 2018 (the same year the supervised consumption site opened), and was nearly twice as high as the record low of 23, set in 2022.

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 June went up to only the 26th, drug responses for the period between June 27–30 were included in July’s data.

As well, during the first 12 months after the SCS closed down in August 2020, Lethbridge saw 358 opioid-related events that EMS responded to. This is the highest number of such events during the same period over the last 4 years.

Sep 2018–Aug 2019236
Sep 2019–Aug 2020269
Sep 2020–Aug 2021358
Sep 2021–Aug 2022308

In the first 12 months after the SCS was closed due to the UCP government cancelling funding, Lethbridge EMS responded to an average of 29.8 drug responses a month, up from 22.3 during the same 12-month period the previous year. They also increased from 5.1 reponses per week, on average, to 6.9 per week.

During the second year after the SCS was shut down, we saw 308 EMS responses to drug events.

While that’s less than the 358 we saw between September 2020 and August 2021, it’s the second highest number seen during the same period over the last 4 years.

And while we still have 1 month to go for the third year since the Alberta government effectively shut down the SCS, the monthly and weekly averages of EMS drug responses are on the rise.


And that makes sense, since we already have seen the highest number of EMS drug responses between September and August, despite the fact that we still have 1 more month left to go in this reporting period.

Sep 2018–Aug 2019236
Sep 2019–Aug 2020269
Sep 2020–Aug 2021337
Sep 2021–Aug 2022322
Sep 2022–Aug 2023408
Note: the last line is still missing data from August of 2023.

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

As well, July’s numbers were tied for the 4th highest the city has seen in any month since July 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 have been on the rise over the last year.

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


We haven’t seen a single month below 30 this year yet. In 2022, however, there were 9 months below 30.

July 2023 was also tied with this past January for having the 4th highest number of EMS drug responses in any month since January 2018. It was tied for 3rd highest since the SCS was shut down in August 2020.

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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