Opioid-related death statistics released in new Alberta Health study
A new study from Alberta Health hopes to shed light on the number of opioid-related deaths in the province.
The report defines opioid-related deaths as those caused by using drugs such as codeine, morphine, oxycodone, fentanyl, carfentanil and heroin.
The latest review looks at 653 deaths across Alberta in 2017.
According to the study, the person most at risk of dying of an opioid overdose is typically a man in his late 30s.
In fact, the vast majority of deaths (77 per cent) were men with an average age of 38. Of those people who died, only 20 were 19 years of age or younger.
"The reality is, the people that we see they’re our brothers and our neighbours and our co-workers," said Stacey Petersen, Executive Director with Fresh Start Recovery Centre, who isn’t surprised by the reports finding. "When we talk about the stereotypical person that has addiction, a lot of people will say, well it’s the individual under the bridge, it’s the person over at this city or wherever, and that’s just not the case."
According to the report,about 83 per cent of victims had a history of violence, mental illness, anxiety or depression.
In total, 66 per cent of deaths occurred while people had been using opioids alone in their home.
Fentanyl use is the most common cause of death at 64 per cent, while carfentanil was used in 23 per cent of cases.
While data on employment status wasn't available for all of the deceased, more than half of those who died worked in trades, transport or as an equipment operator. The next most common occupational group included sales and services.
Caucasians also made up the majority of those who died, at 64 per cent and the next highest group were Indigenous people at 18 per cent.
Lastly, 41 per cent of opioid users who died were either in custody or under community supervision, including a conditional sentence or probation, within five years of their death.
Alberta Health says the aim of the entire study is to identify those most at risk and to highlight potential trends in opioid deaths for the future.
The report concludes that information surrounding opioid deaths will continue to be shared in a positive manner as a way to take away the stigma and encourage others to seek support.
Petersen says there is a solution for those dealing with addiction.
"People still view it as a moral failing although we have irrefutable evidence that says it’s a chronic brain disorder," Peterson said. "You are not destined to run this disease into the grave, you can get out."
According to the Alberta government, further information will continue to be shared about the opioid crisis. There will also be an emphasis on harm reduction services and treatment options as needed across the province.
According to the province, during the first four months of 2019, 137 people died from fentanyl-related poisoning, compared to 160 over the same time period in 2018. Last year, 789 Albertans died from an opioid overdose.
CTV reached out to Alberta Health for an on-camera interview, but our request was denied.
For more on the study, scroll the document below.