This month the Express is doing an investigative series on the opioid crisis in Central Alberta, talking to local organizations on the issue right here in our City.
Devastating, scary and sad is how Stacey Carmichael, executive director of Turning Point Society of Central Alberta would describe the opioid crisis.
“It’s increasing, it’s not getting any better despite everybody’s best efforts. I can’t imagine how terrible it would be if there weren’t these investments in overdose prevention and awareness,” said Carmichael.
In the last month (January 2018), Turning Point distributed 505 naloxone kits.
“There were 94 reversals. Six of those were fatalities,” said Sarah Fleck, nursing manager at Turning Point.
She added that in the first three weeks of January, the overdoses that happened used an average of four doses of naloxone.
“In the last week of January, the average overdose required eight doses of naloxone and 43 per cent of our reversals were reported in the last week of January,” said Fleck.
Compared to other years, Fleck said this is the highest they’ve seen in overdoses.
In the last weekend of January alone, one site in Red Deer saw 30 people who overdosed and were reversed onsite.
“Our clients reported that there is a change in the level of drugs that are on the street, so their suspicion is carfentanil, obviously that’s not confirmed by any stretch.”
Fleck added that their clients’ suspicion is due to the amount that they’re using, which is often less, and still having an overdose that requires CPR and full resuscitation with multiple doses of naloxone.
She said they are hearing that the drugs are either a stronger version of fentanyl or carfentanil, a new batch in the City.
“Lots of folks think it’s just impacting IV drug users or people who are using opioids and I think the word’s getting out there that that’s not the case. All sorts of drugs are being contaminated with fentanyl,” said Carmichael.
She added that they are concerned about the potency of the drugs because they are so unpredictable.
“Some folks are requiring upwards of 18, 20 shots of naloxone to have an overdose reverse,” said Carmichael, adding that it has to do with the potency of the drugs, not because the individual is a hardcore user.
In response to people in the City saying that places like Turning Point are enabling people to do drugs, she said, “We’re certainly not giving them drugs. What we’re trying to do is the harm reduction.”
The philosophy of harm reduction, she said, is to reduce the harm associated with using drugs.
“We just love people for who they are and accept them for where they’re at. We don’t judge them and we want them to be as safe as possible,” she said.
“Everybody’s had some sort of trauma, their stories are incredibly diverse. We’re not enabling them, we want them to not use drugs, we want them to get housing and be stable and healthy. That’s the end goal believe it or not.”
In response to the City of Red Deer denying Turning Point as the site for supervised consumption services, Carmichael said they were disappointed.
“We were the only ones that were wanting to be in the game. We don’t feel like it was a good process at all, but we’re not quite done yet. We’re going to still try and provide this service in our community.”
Stats: From January to December of 2016, there were 343 fentanyl related deaths in Alberta.
From January to November 2017, there were 462 deaths.