Alberta sets new record for opioid deaths in 2023

Alberta’s latest substance use numbers show the province had the highest total opioid-related deaths on record in 2023.

The report shows that 1,867 people died from opioid-related causes. Edmonton and Calgary also hit new highs last year.

“(I’m) sad, upset, but not surprised,” said Petra Schulz, co-founder of Moms Stop the Harm. “Everyone is subject to the supply of toxic drugs.”

“While the number of people losing their lives to addiction is concerning, we are cautiously optimistic about the downward trend in the first two months of 2024,” said Hunter Baril, spokesperson for the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions, in a statement to Global News.

There have been 237 opioid-related deaths in Alberta during the first two months of 2024.

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Schulz said he wants to see that over a longer period before sharing any optimism.

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“Sometimes we see less risky substances arrive. It could just be the supply.”

Schulz is calling on the province to implement more harm reduction measures.

“Expand consumer services again,” Schulz said. “We need to provide more public education on how to stay safe. “We must also consider offering regulated alternatives for people who are at risk of toxic supply.”

NDP mental health and addictions critic Janet Eremenko is also calling on the province to change course.

“Despite these record numbers, UCP continues to double down on its unique approach to addiction,” Eremenko said in a statement.

“It’s clearly not good enough.”

The province says it is building a system of care that supports recovery.

“Last year, we opened the doors to two world-class treatment centers in Red Deer and Lethbridge,” Baril said. “We are building nine more such facilities, five of which are in direct partnership with Indigenous communities across the province.”

He also mentioned the Virtual Opioid Dependence Program.

Schulz said care must begin well before the recovery stage.

“While recovery and offering evidence-based voluntary treatment is very important, we have to make sure they stay alive and healthy to get there,” Schulz said.

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