Lethbridge first quarter EMS drug responses set new record

Lethbridge EMS responded to the highest number of drug-related events last month than in any other March over the last 5 years.

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 March 2022. Hospitalization and SCS usage data haven’t been updated beyond September 2021, and deaths haven’t been updated since October.

My last story on EMS in Lethbridge had EMS data up to February. Since then, Lethbridge EMS responded to 33 opioid-related events, which is lower than what we saw the previous month.

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This is the second highest number of calls for March, compared to the previous 4 years. Keep in mind, however, that the data is weekly data and only goes until the 27th, so it’s missing the last 4 days of March.


Here it is in graph form:

Last month’s numbers broke the previous second highest spot of 19, set in 2018 (before the supervised consumption site opened), and was nearly 3 times as high as the record low of 13, set in 2019.

Now that the March numbers are in, we can also look at the entire first quarter of 2023 (minus the last four days).

During this year’s first quarter of, Lethbridge EMS responded to 126 drug events. That’s the highest number of drug responses of any first quarter since 2018. It’s also the second highest quarter on record, after the record-breaking third quarter of 2021.


As you can see, Lethbridge surpassed the number of drug events EMS responded to in any first quarter of the previous five years. Plus, the first quarter responses continue a trend of increasing numbers that began in the third quarter of last year.

Here are the last 6 first quarters in chart form.

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.

And while we’re still only 7 months into the third year since the Alberta government effectively shut down the SCS, the monthly and weekly averages of EMS drug responses is on the rise.


As well, March’s numbers were the fourth highest the city has seen since last February.

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.

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


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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