Alberta Premier Jason Kenney shakes hands with Jason Luan, associate minister of mental health and addictions after being sworn into office in Edmonton on April 30, 2019. Alberta Health says 449 people have died from opioid overdoses in the province during the first six months of this year. The numbers, which were released today in the second quarter Opioid Response Surveillance Report, show 301 of those deaths happened between April and June 2020. Associate Minister Jason Luan says the COVID-19 pandemic has led to increased fear and anxiety, isolation and job uncertainty. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

Hundreds die from opioid overdoses in Alberta as COVID-19 pandemic hit

Jason Luan said the province is not alone in seeing a rise in deaths,

Alberta Health says 449 people died from opioid overdoses in the province during the first six months of this year.

The numbers, which were released Wednesday in the second-quarter Opioid Response Surveillance Report, show 301 of those deaths happened between April and June 2020.

“Beginning in March 2020, the number of harms associated with opioid use began to increase significantly, reaching record levels not previously seen,” said the report. “This sharp rise was in conjunction with a decrease in the utilization of treatment and harm reduction services.”

Jason Luan, associate minister of Mental Health and Addictions, said in a news release that the COVID-19 pandemic has led to increased fear and anxiety, isolation and job uncertainty.

“This has exacerbated the struggles of many Albertans, including those struggling with substance use,” he said.

Luan said the province is not alone in seeing a rise in deaths, noting British Columbia also reported similar findings and trends during the first few months of the pandemic.

Elaine Hyshka, an assistant professor at the School of Public Health at the University of Alberta, said she expected to see more deaths in Alberta based on trends in other provinces, but not so many more.

“To see 301 deaths in a three-month period is staggering,” said Hyshka, noting the previous record in the province was 211 deaths in three months.

She said COVID-19 is definitely playing a role.

“We’ve heard and seen growing evidence of disruptions in illegal drug supply in terms of border closures and other factors that are leading to more dangerous drugs for sale on the streets,” she said. “We’ve also seen reductions in the number of people seeking care in harm reduction services and treatment clinics.”

She added, however, that the Alberta government has also shifted away from a co-ordinated public health response to the overdose epidemic.

“I worry that the impacts that that has had on harm reduction services like supervised consumption sites, on treatment programs … is also taking a toll,” said Hyshka.

“These deaths are 100 per cent preventable.”

The Opposition NDP said the dramatic rise in the number of preventable deaths in 2020 reverses a downward trend from the middle of 2018.

“These are shocking numbers,” Heather Sweet, the critic for mental health and addiction, said in a statement. “More Albertans have died from an opioid overdose in the last three months than in the entirety of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Alberta Health has reported a total of 260 deaths from the novel coronavirus.

Sweet said the single most important responsibility of any government is to protect human life, but Alberta’s United Conservative government “is turning away from scientific evidence and medical best practices and returning to a failed ‘War on Drugs’ approach.”

Luan said the government’s focus on recovery-oriented services seemed to be having a positive impact prior to the pandemic and noted it has since put money into mental health and addiction recovery supports.

Colette Derworiz, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

(Photo Submitted by the Gord Bamford Foundation)
Lacombe’s Gord Bamford to perform a virtual concert for a good cause

The concert aims to raise awareness for Operation Santa Clause

Alberta Health Services' central zone jumped from 162 active COVID-19 cases to 178 on Friday. Five additional deaths were reported provincewide, bringing the toll to 323. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
622 new COVID-19 cases set another daily high Friday

Province confirmed 622 additional cases Friday

(Photo submitted)
Rimbey resident avid author despite Parkinson’s

Wins more accolades for her writing

“Pumpkin” is available for adoption at Old MacDonalds Kennels. (Facebook photo)
Old MacDonald Kennels sounding the alarm over number of cats in care

An expansion is underway at Old MacDonald Kennels

Alberta children whose only symptom of COVID-19 is a runny nose or a sore throat will no longer require mandatory isolation, starting Monday.
477 new COVID-19 cases confirmed in Alberta on Thursday

Changes being made to the COVID-19 symptom list for school-age children

Over the years, Janice Blackie-Goodine’s home in Summerland has featured elaborate Halloween displays and decorations each October. (File photo)
QUIZ: How much do you really know about Halloween?

Oct. 31 is a night of frights. How much do you know about Halloween customs and traditions?

A man runs across the Carcross Dunes in Carcross, Yukon, on July 2, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘No manual or checklist:’ Yukon ditching fall time change this year

The territory decided to adopt year-round daylight time in March

Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains makes an announcement regarding vaccine procurement, in Toronto, on Wednesday, Aug., 5, 2020. Despite its status as an artificial intelligence hub, Canada has yet to develop a regulatory regime to deal with issues of privacy, discrimination and accountability to which AI systems are prone, prompting calls for regulation from businesses and experts. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov
Canada crawling toward AI regulatory regime, but experts say reform is urgent

5 million images of shoppers collected without consent at Canadian malls

FILE - In this Jan. 23, 1987 file photo, actor Sean Connery holds a rose in his hand as he talks about his new movie "The Name of the Rose" at a news conference in London. Scottish actor Sean Connery, considered by many to have been the best James Bond, has died aged 90, according to an announcement from his family. (AP Photo/Gerald Penny, File)
Actor Sean Connery, the ‘original’ James Bond, dies at 90

He died peacefully in his sleep overnight in the Bahamas

<strong>Spooky spectacles:</strong> Halloween decorations seen around Ponoka. Photos by Karen Douglass
PHOTOS: Ponoka ready for Halloween

Spooky spectacles: Halloween decorations seen around Ponoka. Photos by Karen Douglass By… Continue reading

(Photo Submitted by the Gord Bamford Foundation)
Lacombe’s Gord Bamford to perform a virtual concert for a good cause

The concert aims to raise awareness for Operation Santa Clause

City of Wetaskiwin Mayor presenting the AUMA Above & Beyond Award to John Maude and Susan Quinn. Ren Goode/ City of Wetaskiwin.
Wetaskiwin County residents win the AUMA Above & Beyond Award

John Maude and Susan Quinn are being recognized for their role in Wetaskiwin’s sustainability.

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole rises during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Wednesday October 28, 2020. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Conversion therapy ban gets approval in principle, exposes Conservative divisions

Erin O’Toole himself voted in favour of the bill, as did most Conservative MPs

(Pixabay photo)
Spoooky, scaaaary: The ultimate Halloween-in-quarantine playlist

All the costumes, trick-or-treating and spooky-season fun is essentialy off the table due to COVID-19

Most Read