Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney updates media on measures taken to help with COVID-19, in Edmonton on Friday, March 20, 2020.

JASON FRANSON/The Canadian Press

Alberta is reporting 904 opioid-related deaths in the first 10 months of 2020, a sobering record surpassing the province’s current death count of COVID-19.

Premier Jason Kenney says the novel coronavirus has had an impact on those opioid numbers, initially reducing access to in-person treatment programs along with reports some people used federal COVID-19 income supports to purchase drugs.

“It’s important for us to learn from these factors that may have driven a significant increase in overdose deaths earlier this year,” Kenney said at a virtual news conference Friday.

Story continues below advertisement

But he noted the province has also invested $140 million over four years for mental health and addictions programs, including $40 million for opioid addictions.

Alberta’s opioid death rate originally peaked at 806 in 2018 before falling to 627 last year.

The 904 opioid deaths this year are calculated up to the end of October. There have been 815 deaths so far this year linked to COVID-19.

The Opposition NDP said Kenney’s United Conservative government has contributed to the rise in deaths by cutting front-line aid, including closing a safe consumption site in Lethbridge earlier this year.

“We have seen throughout the COVID-19 pandemic that Jason Kenney puts his personal ideology ahead of professional public health advice,” said Heather Sweet, the NDP’s critic for mental health and addictions.

“He has taken the same approach to the toxic overdose crisis, and it’s led to unnecessary deaths.”

Safe consumption sites allow addicts to use drugs in a supervised setting. Advocates say it’s a way to expose addicts to treatment while stopping them from dying of overdoses. Critics, including Kenney’s government, argue it’s enabling an addiction and that the best course of action is to focus on treatment and recovery.

Story continues below advertisement

Kenney said the ARCHES site in Lethbridge was closed because an audit found financial irregularities. He added that a mobile site has replaced it and opioid-related deaths in Lethbridge are decreasing.

Elaine Hyshka, an assistant professor at the University of Alberta’s School of Public Health, said the province needs to take specific action to address the crisis, starting with safe drug supply programs.

When the pandemic started, she said, border closures disrupted traditional illicit drug supply routes. The resulting vacuum was filled by “new actors” distributing even more dangerous concoctions, leading to people dying with much higher blood concentrations of drugs like fentanyl.

“The drugs in circulation during the pandemic now are very dangerous, and I think that’s the main driver,” said Hyshka.

“We need to find ways to get people who are reliant on toxic drugs and connect them to pharmaceutical-grade alternatives and wraparound health care.

“Many provinces are moving in this direction but there’s been no appetite to do that here.”

Story continues below advertisement

Hyshka said Alberta needs to adapt.

“We can’t just think that adding more money to the things that we’re already doing will be enough,” she said.

“We’ve never had a drug market this toxic, and there’s no sign that it’s going to go back to being less toxic.”

Kenney also announced a new online dashboard has been activated to give the public and caregivers more up-to-date information on substance abuse, with data on everything from patient counts to ambulance calls.

“An effective response begins with knowing what the problem is, and this is a huge improvement in us being able to identify what the problem is, how it’s affecting people (and) where and when it’s affecting people,” said the premier.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies