While authorities in B.C. are warning the public of increasing deaths from fentanyl and other illicit opioids, officials in Alberta haven't released a monthly tally of fatalities since last September, prompting a senior public-health doctor to warn that Alberta's situation could be as bad as British Columbia's but he'd never know.
More than 1,000 Canadians have died of fentanyl and other illicit opioids over the past two years, creating a public-health crisis that has been felt most severely in Canada's two westernmost provinces.
As both Alberta and B.C. struggle to reduce the number of deaths from the abuse of the drugs, it's difficult to compare whether Alberta's response to fentanyl is working better than B.C.'s without timely data, according to Hakique Virani, a public-health specialist in Edmonton.
"I haven't seen any numbers from the last quarter of 2016. We're in February, now that's a problem. This isn't how we'd deal with an infectious-disease emergency and it's certainly no way to deal with a chemical hazard," Dr. Virani said.
"You'd think there would be a real push for real-time surveillance."
Anecdotally, he says the number of people showing up in emergency rooms because of overdoses has been increasing.
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi told The Globe and Mail that his city is "without question in crisis."
"I'm not sure that we're winning this battle," Mr. Nenshi said on Friday. "It's very clear the situation isn't getting any better. We need to be thoughtful not only about keeping people alive but how to make them better."
Calgary has joined a task force of 12 Canadian cities looking to share best practices for combatting fentanyl and pushing the federal government for a more significant national response.
Fentanyl is a cheap and powerful drug, 50 times more potent than heroin. It's easy to manufacture and is toxic in small doses – two milligrams are enough to kill the average person in less than 15 minutes. In recent months, a more powerful form of the drug, known as carfentanil, has appeared. Alberta officials have so far linked 15 deaths to the new drug.
The Alberta government reported that 193 deaths were related to fentanyl between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30, 2016. No data have yet been released for the last three months of the year. In B.C., the number of deaths from illicit drug overdoses spiked to a record 337 in the last three months of the year – a figure that encompasses all drugs, including fentanyl.
While Alberta's chief medical officer, Karen Grimsrud, said that she's concerned Alberta is close behind what B.C. is feeling in this crisis, she defended the government's decision to release data every quarter.
However, she told The Globe that her department is now looking at releasing basic numbers every month, mirroring her colleagues in B.C.
"Compared to B.C., our rates are not as high for fentanyl deaths, however both B.C. and Alberta are feeling the full impact of this crisis," Dr. Grimsrud said.
"We're looking into the future about what our data reporting should be. We have to balance the quality of information we can put out with just reporting for the sake of reporting."
Petra Schulz lost her son Danny to fentanyl, now she's organizing families in Alberta and B.C. to share stories and provide help to each other.
She said it's difficult for the families to understand what's happening without more timely data.
"We feel abandoned. Things are just ticking along."