Overdose calls and deaths continue to increase in Lethbridge year over year says Fire Chief

By Lara Fominoff @LaraFominoff on Twitter
October 3, 2018 - 9:49am Updated: October 3, 2018 - 1:17pm

LETHBRIDGE - The opening of the supervised consumption site near downtown Lethbridge has not resulted in fewer overdose calls, according to Lethbridge Fire Chief Rich Hildebrand.

At Monday's Community Issues Committee meeting, as part of the first phase of a three-phase city response to the drug crisis in the city, councillors heard from five presenters, including AHS Addictions and Mental Health, ARCHES, Lethbridge Fire/EMS, Lethbridge Police and two local school districts.

Hildebrand told councillors that over the last few years, the number of overdose calls have risen year over year.

"This still is an issue. We continue to experience a number of overdose responses where patients are unconscious, and that number continues to grow."

The graphs presented at the meeting show just over 600 overdose responses in 2016. That number grew to about 664 in 2017. Up until Sept. 21 of 2018, there were more than 800 overdose responses recorded.

Of the 2018 numbers, there appear to be more than 500 calls for conscious overdoses, and about 300 calls for unconscious overdoses.


And Hildebrand says those calls are coming from all over the city, not solely near the supervised consumption site.

"So, we respond around the community, in virtually every neighborhood of the community. And while there are a few areas that are more common than others, certainly the downtown area is an area where we experience a lot of responses to overdoses, there certainly are areas, parts of the north side and the south side where we experience similar sort of numbers."

Alberta Health's Q2 Opioid Surveillance Report shows accidental opioid overdose death "hot spots" near Chinook Regional Hospital, in the downtown area, in the Bridge Villa Estates Area near 13 St. N, in the Ridgewood Heights and Willowbrook areas on the city's west side, and at Lethbridge Correctional Insititution.

In the first 6 months of this year, there were 17 accidental fentanyl-related deaths in Lethbridge. In all of 2017, there were 16, and in 2016 there were eight fentanyl-related deaths. 

Other cities like Calgary, Edmonton, Red Deer, and Medicine Hat, Fort McMurray and Grande Prairie show most accidental opioid overdose deaths occuring in or near hospitals. https://www.alberta.ca/assets/documents/opioid-substances-misuse-report-2018-q2.pdf

Hildebrand says they're seeing younger people dying, multi-generational deaths in the same residence and people who have overdosed frequently and are seen by staff several times in a single weekend.

And it takes a toll on all front-line staff, who respond to more than 15,000 medical events each year in and around the city. 

"There are so many different folks that are impacted by this, that provide support, and my staff is just one example where you see some of the folks that are out there providing counselling services or different support services to the folks that are experiencing addictions. You know, they're not accustomed to seeing a lot of death or experiencing a high rate of death from their clients. And so, this is something that's new for them and we've tried to come up with frameworks to help support them as well."

LNN asked Hildebrand whether the opening of the SCS has helped take some of the pressure off local first responders.

"I don't think our data assesses the value of the supervised consumption site," he said. "What our data indicates is there continues to be a number of overdoses in the community and what I would say is that the folks at the SCS deal with a number of overdoses almost on a daily basis. For every one of those that they deal with, it's one fewer that we have to deal with in the community."

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