June 20th, 2024

Overdoses remain a threat despite positive trends; 2023 marks record-high number of fatalities

By Lethbridge Herald on May 24, 2024.

A prone man is checked out while other individuals watch or engage in drug activity at Galt Gardens in this file photo from last summer. The man was responsive when later approached by police. Herald file photo

Justin Sibbet – LETHBRIDGE HERALD – Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Following a record-high number of overdose fatalities in the province last year, the funeral processions are not stopping.

Like the province, Lethbridge also saw a yearly record rate of fatal overdose victims, with 124 total deaths in 2023. This is up dramatically from 78 deaths in 2022 and 70 the year before that.

John Webb, an addictions medicine doctor with the Prairie Treatment Centre, says the rise in deaths are leading to additional overdoses and addiction issues because people are turning to heavier use when those around them pass away.

“Using opioids, or falling back into using opioids, is out of an inability to cope with the grief they’re experiencing over the frequent loss of loved ones, often because of opioid overdose,” said Webb. “It’s become a bit of a vicious circle.”

Unfortunately, he says when a person overdoses, it’s already too late to help them.

“I only see the people who are alive.” 

Webb says the spike seen in early 2023 can be partially attributed to the introduction of xylazine in southern Alberta. 

“It’s been basically a year since so-called ‘tranq-dope’ started showing up in Lethbridge,” said Webb. “(Which is) fentanyl or carfentanyl that’s had xylazine added to it.”

Xylazine, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, is a veterinary tranquilizer not approved for human use.

Even so, Webb says the rise of xylazine is terrifying for many drug users, but they are unable to quit cold turkey. He says, once addicted, the need for drugs is like the need for food.

“I don’t need to explain that the drive to eat when you’re hungry… people will do anything they need to get (food),” said Webb. “It’s not just the avoidance of a horrible withdrawal, there’s also a rapid conditioning to seek (drugs) out and it just tramples reason.”

He says, even if the behavioural conditioning was not present, the withdrawals are still colossal.

“Your whole-body hurts, you’re vomiting, you have diarrhea, you can’t stop shaking and you have overwhelming anxiety and also a general sense of life being terrible and it’s all at the same time and it’s all turned up to 11.”

However, cautious optimism may be possible as 2024 has been off to a less deadly start. The most up-to-date information released by the Government of Alberta shows January and February of this year with less than half of the fatalities in the same period as compared to 2023.

Hunter Baril, press secretary for Dan Williams, Alberta’s mental health and addiction minister, said in a statement to the Herald that a new treatment centre in Lethbridge has been paramount to the turnaround and that there are more coming to the province.

“We are building nine more of these facilities, five of which are in direct partnership with Indigenous communities across the province.”

This, Webb agrees, is crucial to the fight against drug addiction. He works in Lethbridge, Calgary, Standoff and occasionally other cities in the province. As a result, he sees firsthand how critical the situation is, particularly on Indigenous land.

“Especially in the Standoff area, it just became… Anecdotally, like the awareness of hearing of people dying became more frequent to the extent that it was kind of overwhelming and numbing,” said Webb. “You’re sort of just at a loss for what to say to people because it just seems like a nightmare.”

Meanwhile, Baril says Albertans rightfully demand something be done to solve the problems facing the community.

“This is what Albertans expect: a government that supports recovery, not the ongoing facilitation of addiction with failed policies adopted by other jurisdictions.”

Webb says he has seen research that indicates most individuals seeking treatment fail to stick with it. Furthermore, he estimates only around half of drug users ever even seek support in the first place. He says this takes its toll on the mental health of addiction support workers, such as himself.

“You always remember the first one,” said Webb. He adds that the first patient of his to die by overdose was a mother who had just lost two of her children. He now says he is blunt with his patients, rather than beating around the bush.

“I’m kind of candid and (tell them) I’m worried they’re going to die, because that’s just a fact.”

He says his patients often have little to no reaction when told they are at severe risk of death. 

Meanwhile, Baril says the government hopes to help as many people as possible on their journey of addiction and recovery.

“With a continued focus in building the Alberta Recovery Model, more people will access life-saving services to help them overcome the deadly disease of addiction,” said Baril.

However, Webb is less optimistic, saying that even one death is unacceptable.

“I think the only thing you can say with certainty is that we are coming out of a horrific year where, clearly, the mortality peaked in 2023,” said Webb. “It’s coming from such a high, it kind of looks like it’s coming down but it’s still pretty high.”

In 2023, Lethbridge had the highest rate of fatal overdoses per capita in the province, out of the selected municipalities by the provincial report.

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Dennis Bremner

You can lead a horse to water but you cannot force him to drink.
There is a certain amount of “two-faced” attitudes when it comes to Addicts by “the experts”.
When feeding at the trough they espouse how difficult it is for addicts to quit. When trying to justify their endless services to get more government money they espouse the inner workings of the deteriorated brain they cater too.
When acquiring real estate its like collecting puzzle pieces one at a time in a 1000 piece puzzle and every collection is heralded as one step closer to “saving that one life”!
Every year for decades we stumble around the obvious solution, we do so with the ease of a ballerina. I initially thought that it was because everyone serving these people actually gave a crap! I was wrong, its a collective of tear jerking, feet washing, brain analyzers that have to do things in a certain order so they feel good about themselves.
I have been privy many a conversation where the recipient of the services lies in a coffin with clean feet and everyone is console-ing the giver who is sucking it up like a Scott Towel!
I had the opportunity years ago to sit with an elderly man in a pub in Portsmouth England. He told me that his demons were drugs, and Booze was the saviour for him. I could not argue that logic because it was in my estimation the lessor of the two evils. When I asked him what his drug story looked like he dragged me down to the gutters of Liverpool where he slid into drug induced oblvion.
The one comment he made that has stuck with me since that meeting was his theory on getting people off of drugs. He said;
“You either tremove the addict from drugs, or you remove the drugs from the addict”
Every place I visited from that point onward i saw the flitting Florence Nightingales, the Pearly Gate Seerkers and the “Self loathing pitty loving helpers ” errode that to a point of stupidity.
New Lipstick on an old pig
Xylazine has the same effect as Desomorphine which is the active Ingredient of a street drug called Krocodil or Crocodil. The effects are virtually the same, the user buys it dirt cheap, but must shoot up every 4 hours. Eventually skin starts to fail, this brings on infection and the visible side effects are people walking around with forearm bones or calf bones, collar bones etc exposed. This is there new drug Tranq! Whats our logic, oh, we have to wait till he decides to rehab? He has no leg his arm is rotting off and our answer? Well at least he will have one clean foot when he is dead!! https://northjerseyrecovery.com/xylazine-tranq-dope-zombie-drug/
I believe the quoted “expert” in this article has taken the “half seek treatment” out of context. Half the users seek treatment but more than half of those are looking for a “break” not rehab.
Its sad, but funny to watch the faces of those helpers who enjoy receiving console-ing comments when an addict dies. When I propose to any of “them” the reduction in “rights” ie force living in an establishment that actually wants to save them, they are aghast! How dare I propose curbing a Canadians freedom, who the hell am I!
Yet, again, amusingly I have never seen any of these bleeding hearts interject when the Gov decides I am too old, and need supervision and they decide to ship me off to Kookamonga Alberta because thats the only place they have a bed! What is more interesting, the bleeding hearts watch the possibility of my wife and I being split up because beds are not available and sent to different cities, not a word but possibly a tear and thats it. If I start to drool out of the corner of my mouth, whacko, I am deemed incompetent and hustled about like a spare piece of furniture that does not fit the decor’. However, fry your brain on drugs stand in the street like a paper clip drooling out of the side of your mouth and the services serrve you where you are, and whats more, I am to treat the addict with respect? You guys should be checked by health professionals because you are worse than an addict!
No one screams about my rights if the “state” decides I am to be confined to a facility and I decide I wanna leave!
So it seems that this crying bunch of irritants love to defend the rights of those they can profit on, but when the gov runs the facilities they scatter like flies!
Remember this if nothing else. There are only two ways to safely remove a person from drugs and give them their life back. Alberta, and the rest of the world have decided not to do either!
Its simple;
-You either remove drugs from the drug addict by crucifying everyone that is a seller, and when I say crucifying I mean 15-20 years in jail. Then you clean up the jails, and prosecute every facilitator in the jails to the fullest. That has FAILED MISERABLY, so we can forget that one!
-You build a facility away from Cities. You man it with all the experts and services. You outlaw the use of drugs in the cities and you shuttle the addict to the facility everytime he/she is caught using. You impinge on an addicts rights just like you fullly intend on impinging on mine without a blink of an eye! Once you do that, you will start to see a reduction of dead addicts with clean feet!

You know not what you do!

Truer words have never been spoken! What you are doing is installing drug addiction and crime into your cities and its a never-ending commitment,( thats worth repeating, NEVER ENDING COMMITMENT,) once you destroy your own society, its over.
Eventually when you have destroyed the downtowns, and migrated the problem to the burbs, perhaps someone will finally realize what you people are doing to the fabric, we call Canada. I have faith, you won’t see the light, in my lifetime. You will flit about killing businesses,residents, and society, You will have meetings bestowing high praise on each other! You will cherish the idea you think you are doing “God’s work” and the rest, will just keep throwing the money in the donation plate, rather than say “wait a minute”! If it does happen in my lifetime I won’t know it because you will have me locked up, as an old person, curbed every one of my rights, even separate me from my wife, and not even blink at the thought!
Personally, I believe God is ashamed of your collective stupidity!
Until you actually decide to give a crap, I hope you enjoy putting lipstick on this pig! because thats all you are doing!
My only regret in this entire fiasco is not being able to convince the Indigenous not to participate in it. I was never granted an audience with Chief Fox or anyone else in power,( 5 written attempts and no answer) so now they watch their people die, once again, in a white mans illogical fiasco!
PS I quote “However, Webb is less optimistic, saying that even one death is unacceptable.” Not trying to exploit this persons comment but it does show you how focused they are and the horse blinders are on.
Narry a mention of one death of a business, the death of a bldg owner from stress, the death of an employee because addicts forced a business closure and debt caused a suicide. How selective we have become on the “value of one life” and what group that life has to belong too!
A righteous question is deserved at this point. Is an addicts life more important then if one or more God fearing, hard working, honest, downtown resident or business person or employee dies? Or is their no importance attached to their lives at this point?

Last edited 26 days ago by Dennis Bremner

Good report, thank you!
Fatal overdoses are up across North America,with almost all see some of the highest numbers of fatal OD’s and in Western Canada we are seeing increases across the four provinces as well.
BC, with about 50 SCS/OPS sites and several radical programs in place, including free prescribed safe supply meth, cocaine, opioids and ketamine, has the highest per capita rating from the four western provinces, while Alberta only 7 sites and focused on treatment/recovery, and once they get all their treatment facilities operational, we will see significant changes in our fatal overdoses with numbers dramatically lower per capita than BC. . . . at this time Alberta has a lower per capita rate for fatal overdoses than BC.
I would also note that you can no longer compare BC fatal overdose stats, they are incomplete, because they do not track ‘safe supply’ fatal overdoses, only fatal overdoses from a ‘toxic drug supply’ or ‘unregulated toxic drug supply’ . . . so they are so desparate to hide the fact that all their radical, useless programs and policies failed that they are trying to manipulate stats to look good.
I say again; The stats you hear from BC actually are much higher because the fatal overdoses they report do not include fatal overdoses from their safe supply drugs!
Isn’t it insane, bizarre that they sue pharmaceutical companies for getting people addicted to opioids, but now the BC government is handing out opioids to addicts?
Indigenous communities MUST start to take responsibility for the crisis which has destroyed a generation and is threatening another generation. They must stop the blame game and look at how they can stop the flow of drugs into their communities, especially coming from the US and the cartels, who have been using these communities which are along US-Canadian borders to smuggle in large quantities of illegal drugs to distribute across Alberta. Indigenous communities must stop banishing addicts and drug dealers from the community, who end up on city streets and die there!
You must push to get those treatment facilities up and operational and allow police and the courts to be more aggressive in dealing with criminals who are bringing these drugs in and trafficking them to your young people!
Drug courts could be used instead of jail for those who could benefit and then have a chance in life! It is for your benefit! Too many of your people have died on the streets of Lethbridge. This is not our fault!
Lethbridge has some of the highest fatal overdoses because we are next to the largest Indigenous community in Canada, with 3 others with 90 minutes that impact our community, that includes the US Blackfeet in Montana.
Our province is on the right track, but it takes time to buiild facilities, train staff and reduce SCS sites. which only enable and encourage addicts, as stated by many who have been through treatment who are saying they are not helping.
What is holding up the construction of the facility in Standoff? It should have been operational by now!

Last edited 25 days ago by ewingbt

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