AHS warns of dangers of opioid overdose

Pearl Lorentzen
Lakeside Leader

Alberta Health Services (AHS) is warning Albertans about the dangers of illegal drugs, says an AHS June 5 media release. This is “following a significant increase in opioid-related EMS calls, particularly in Edmonton.”

Starting in June 2020, the Slave Lake RCMP is keeping track of when officers have to inject someone with naloxone to counteract a drug overdose, says Staff Sergeant John Spaans. For January to May, there aren’t exact numbers, “but off of the top of my head I can think of six occurrences where our members administered Naloxone to individuals suspected of overdosing.”

Across Alberta in April, the community-based naloxone program reported 676 overdose reversals, which was the highest number in more than a year.

Naloxone is a drug used to save people from an drug overdose.

Slave Lake pharmacies, community clinics and emergency departments have naloxone kits. A full list of locations along with advice on spotting an overdose is available at www.drugsafe.ca.

Various people in the area have naloxone training. Training for the community-based naloxone program is available. For example, last year the Métis Nation of Alberta Region 5 held one in Slave Lake.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines opioid as “a natural, semisynthetic, or synthetic substance that typically binds to the same cell receptors as opium and produces similar narcotic effects (such as sedation, pain relief, slowed breathing, and euphoria).” These include morphine, heroin, hydrocodone, oxycodone, fentanyl and methadone.

Drugs like opioids and methamphetamine are topics of conversation at the Slave Lake Homeless Coalition meetings.

Heroin and methamphetamine are very cheap in Slave Lake, said RCMP Sargent Don Racette at the June 27 2019 meeting.

On May 28, the Lakeshore Regional Police Service arrested two people in Driftpile Cree Nation for drug trafficking. This included methamphetamine (meth), a controlled substance.

“Methamphetamine is a highly addictive drug that affects the central nervous system,” says AHS. “It may be injected, snorted, swallowed or smoked. It is made in illegal laboratories from cheap ingredients, which are often poisonous or flammable.”

In May 2020, there were over twice as many opioid-related emergencies in Edmonton as in 2019, says the media release. In 2020, EMS responded to 246 calls, up from 108 in 2019.

An AHS communications spokesperson says the Edmonton spike was due to a batch of contaminated drugs in the city. The rest of the province had normal numbers. In May, there were 25 EMS opioid-related calls in the North Zone, he says. This is likely similar to previous years.

The AHS North Zone covers the northern half of the province from Cold Lake to Jasper, up to the border with the Northwest Territories. Slave Lake, High Prairie, Wabasca, Fort McMurray, Grande Prairie, and Peace River are just a few of the many communities in the zone.

The nearest opioid treatment program is in High Prairie. Edmonton, Calgary, Lethbridge, and Red Deer have supervised consumption sites, where people can do drugs with health professionals nearby in case of an overdose. Edmonton and Calgary and soon Red Deer have drug treatment courtw, which focus on treatment of addicted criminal offenders.

The AHS media release says people experiencing a drug overdose may show breathe slowly or stop breathing, blue nails and/or lips, choking or throwing up, making gurgling sounds and cold, clammy skin.

In an emergency, call 911 or go directly to your nearest emergency department. You can also call the Addiction Helpline at 1-866-332-2322, or the Mental Health Helpline, at 1-877-303-2642.

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