Last month, the Alberta government released their Opioid Response Surveillance Report for the first quarter of 2020. Here’s a summary of how Lethbridge fares regarding the ongoing drug crisis.
According to the report, Lethbridge has the second highest death rate for fentanyl related deaths of the 7 municipalities reported on.
In the above table, we see that at 24.2, Lethbridge’s rate for fentanyl related deaths is second only to Red Deer. It’s also roughly 50% higher than it was in 2019.
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If you include all of the South Zone, the death rate ends up being the highest.
Lethbridge’s rate for non-fentanyl opioid deaths for the first quarter of 2020 was 0, tied with both Medicine Hat and Red Deer. This continues a downward trend in the non-fentanyl opioid death rate in Lethbridge.
However, if you include the entire zone, the death rate once again ends up the highest in the province.
Lethbridge’s Chinook Regional Hospital saw the 9th highest rate of emergency visits related to drug use, at 1,629 visits between 1 January 2016 and 31 December 2019. That accounted for 4% of all ER visits.
The South Zone as a whole had the highest emergency department visit rate of all the health zones during every quarter of this 4-year period. The last quarter of 2019, the South Zone ED visit rate for drug usage was 29% higher than the provincial average.
Likewise, the rate of hospitalizations related to drug usage was the highest in the last quarter for the South Zone than it was for any other health zone. In fact, it was the highest in that zone for 15 of the 16 quarters during this 4-year period. Its rate of 127 hospitalizations per 100,000 was 64% higher than the provincial average.
Chinook Regional Hospital itself had the 8th highest number of hospitalizations related to harm associated with drug usage, which accounted for 3% of all hospital stays.
Given the prevalence of death and hospitalization related to drug usage in the South zone, it shouldn’t be that surprising that South Zone has the highest rate of methadone dispensation from community pharmacies. That has been the case for every quarter in that 4-year period, as well as in the first quarter of 2020, when the rate was 190% higher than the provincial average.
This is also the case with naloxone, with a dispensing rate increasing every quarter of the 4-year period, and even jumping 6% between the last quarter of 2019 and the first quarter of 2020.
The South Zone also had the highest rate of individuals being dispensed an opioid from community pharmacies, although this rate has been consistently dropping during nearly the entire reporting period. Even so, the dispensing rate for the first quarter of 2020 was 32% higher than the provincial dispensing average.
Other than the first two quarters of 2019, Lethbridge has seen the highest rate of EMS responses to opioid-related events. Interestingly, Lethbridge data is ungraphed for 2016 and 2017. Despite its higher EMS response rates, Lethbridge rates have dropped nearly every quarter since the peak in early 2018. In fact, the rate of EMS responses has dropped 72% since its peak.
All that being said, the South Zone has seen the third highest number of naloxone kits being distributed of all the health zones, with a total of 33,029 kits distributed in 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and the first quarter of 2020.
Regarding supervised consumption, Lethbridge’s supervised consumption site saw—by far—the highest number of visits of any site in the province. In fact, at an average of over 54,000 visits per quarter since the second quarter of 2018, Lethbridge has seen over 435,000 visits during the entire reporting period. That’s more than all the other sites combined.
Since the first full quarter after its opening, Lethbridge’s supervised consumption site has seen more attended adverse events than any other location, except for the first quarter of 2020, when Red Deer had more.
Adverse events are so-called “drug poisoning events” requiring intervention, including oxygen or naloxone or requesting medical assistance. None of those adverse events resulted in death.
I find the stats on the supervised consumption site interesting. Given its significant usage rate compared to the other sites, it makes me wonder how high the non-SCS drug events (such as deaths, ER visits, and hospitalizations) would be—and they are already among the highest—if the SCS didn’t exist.
After all, if the SCS has had no deaths and medical staff on site can attend to most adverse events without EMS intervention, then it seems to me that it’s saving lives and easing the burden on the local public health system.
Oh, one more thing.
The report included maps for each city, showing where opioid-related deaths occurred during the first quarter of 2020. Here’s Lethbridge. Notice that the deaths happened in various locations throughout the city, not just near the SCS.