ALBERTA

Alberta Fentanyl Deaths Reach Crisis Levels

12/14/2015 01:10 EST | Updated 12/14/2015 01:59 EST
ASSOCIATED PRESS
A kit with naloxone, also known by its brand name Narcan, is displayed at the South Jersey AIDS Alliance in Atlantic City, N.J. on Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014. An overdose of opiates essentially makes the body forget to breathe. Naloxone works by blocking the brain receptors that opiates latch onto and helping the body "remember" to take in air. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

Albertans are dying from fentanyl overdoses at a rate of five to six people per week across the province, which has prompted Health Minister Sarah Hoffman to expand the government's response to the deadly drug.

From January to September 2015, there were 213 deaths involving fentanyl in Alberta — in 2011, that number was only six.

“We may have one person a week lost in Calgary, or more, and we can’t continue this. We have to stop this," Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi told the Calgary Herald.

In response to the high amount of overdoses, the province is increasing access to a drug called naloxone, which can reverse effects of an overdose if given in time.

The province has purchased an additional 2,000 take-home naloxone kits on top of the 3,000 that have already been made available. Hoffman issued a ministerial order Friday to expand who can administer and prescribe the drug.

The announcement is a part of a $300,000 harm reduction program launched this summer to increase access the kits.

"We have to stop this."

Fentanyl is an opioid about 100 times more toxic than morphine, heroin or oxycodone, according to Alberta Health Services. Since most of the pills are made in home labs, it's difficult to know exactly what's in them.

Hoffman said she spoke to an expert who compared it to making chocolate chip cookies.

"Sometimes you'll get lots of chocolate chips in one cookie, and sometimes you won't get very many," Hoffman told CBC News. "And this drug is so lethal that something as small as two grains, two grains of sand or two grains of salt, can be lethal."

Police say they've noticed a spike in Alberta's drug trade in the past year as the province's economy has slowed.

"The graph for deaths related to fentanyl just goes straight up, it’s just a huge rise,” said Edmonton Police Detective Guy Pilon in an interview with The Globe and Mail. “I don’t think we’ve come anywhere near the peak of this yet.”

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