Fentanyl related deaths remain a serious problem in Alberta
Published Tuesday, August 22, 2017 4:00PM MDT Last Updated Tuesday, August 22, 2017 6:51PM MDT
The latest provincial fentanyl report is out and the number of deaths is still alarming.
Although the number is lower in the last quarter compared to the first quarter of 2017; experts say the opioid addiction problem is far from over.
Christopher Wales is almost finished his 16 week rehab program at the Fresh Start Recovery Centre.
His path to addiction started with pills for pain prescribed by a doctor.
"I had a bad accident and pretty much had an open ended prescription for opiates. I was introduced to fentanyl and it was readily available,” says Wales. “I would say in terms of the high it was more intense but didn’t last as long so I was continually looking for more.”
His addiction led to crime and eventually Wales found himself caught up in a vicious cycle.
"I knew something had to change. I was tired of being in and out of jail. I heard about this place and heard nothing but good things about it and I’m very happy to be here,” says Wales.
Wales was able to get clean and get his life back on track but that’s not the reality for many addicts.
Alberta Health says 119 people died from an apparent drug overdose related to fentanyl between April and June of 2017; a slight reduction from the 122 deaths recorded in the first quarter of 2017.
The province has indicated the death toll has stabilized but experts in the field say fentanyl addiction is still a serious problem.
"Opioid addiction and fentanyl addiction is still on the increase and people are still using,” says Bruce Holstead, the Director of Operations at Fresh Start Recovery Centre. “Perhaps the sudden death syndrome has been negated or removed or minimized or lessened but it's still plausible.”
Naloxone kits, which have been made available to the public, have helped save lives.
The province says as of June 30, 2017, more than 18,500 naloxone kits have been dispensed.
Alberta Health Services says over 700 people have reported they’ve used the kits and it worked.
Chopra Addiction and Wellness Centre founder Nirmala Raniga says there needs to be a long term solution.
"We need more clinics where people can access outpatient treatments using methadone, outpatient counselling and residential treatment centres and those who are chronic users may need to go to an injection site where they can be safe,” she says. “The most important thing is do not use alone.”
“It's a crisis and it needs to be recognized as a crisis and dealt with accordingly and it has been but the momentum needs to gain to get in front of it,” says Holstead.
Wales is grateful for his second chance at life and knows his future is going to be brighter.
"I know that whatever it is I'm truly happy now. I don't need to use an external substance to find it and I'm excited for life,” he says.
In 2016, 343 people died from an apparent overdose related to fentanyl.
(With files from Kathy Le)