Lethbridge EMS drug responses up 86% since Sept

Lethbridge EMS responded to the second highest number of drug-related events during November 2022 than in any other November over the last 5 years, extending an upward trend that started in June.

Recently, 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 November 2022. Hospitalization and SCS usage data haven’t been updated beyond June, and deaths haven’t been updated since August.

My last story on EMS responses in Lethbridge had EMS data up to October. Since then, Lethbridge EMS responded to an additional 39 opioid-related events, making November 2022 the second highest November of the last 5 years.

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Here’s how each November fared during the same period.


Here it is in graph form:

Last month’s numbers were down slightly from the previous November, but still higher than the other 3 years on record.

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 12 months since 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 since 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.

As well, November’s numbers were higher than every month this year, other than January and February, continuing the upward trend started in June.

While both January and February of this year were the highest on record, March was the 3rd highest, April was tied for the lowest April on record. May and June were each the second lowest on record, despite June increasing over May, and July was the lowest July on record, despite it having increased over June.

August and September, however, were back at being the second lowest on record, but were tied with another year (2018). October was the second highest on record, as was November, which I already pointed out, surpassed by only 4 more events last year.


With October’s and November’s numbers in, we can also look at how the final quarter of the year is shaping out. During the fourth quarter of 2022 so far, Lethbridge EMS responded to a total of 68 drug-related events. That’s the second lowest number of any fourth quarter over the last 5 years, up to just the end of October.

Last month’s numbers are up 34.5% over October, and October was up 38.1% over September, an average increase of 36.3% and a total increase of 85.7% since September.

If December sees similar increases, Lethbridge EMS could end up responding to as many as 121 drug events.

This is the second highest quarter this year so far, up to the end of November, but if the numbers continue for the rest of the quarter, we could end up with the highest fourth quarter on record, as well as the second highest quarter overall since at least 2018.

One thing to keep in mind when reading these statistics is that just because EMS are responding to fewer drug events (compared to last year) doesn’t necessarily mean there are fewer 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.

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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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