Although Alberta RCMP issued a dire warning in the wake of skyrocketing accidental drug poisonings late last month, Airdrie appears to be going against the provincial trend.

In 2023, Airdrie Mounties responded to 10 accidental drug poisonings, down from 13 in 2022. However, last year there were two deaths associated with accidental drug poisonings, compared to one death in 2022.

Cst. Jennifer Weedmark of the Airdrie RCMP's Community Resource Unit noted that this hasn't changed the strategy for local Mounties.

"This has not changed the substance abuse issue as a priority for the RCMP. We recognize that substance abuse is a complex community issue requiring a multi-faceted approach from all community stakeholders," Cst. Weedmark stated.

Despite the slight downward trend of accidental drug poisonings within Airdrie, the province's substance use surveillance data shows that between September and January 2023, the rate of drug poisoning deaths per a 100,000 population across the province, was 40.8, the highest since data began being recorded in 2016. 

There has also been a spike in accidental drug poisoning occurring in public. In the third quarter of 2023, 43 per cent of all drug poisonings in Alberta were in a public place, also the highest percentage since data began being collected. Drug poisonings in private residences were at their lowest in the third quarter of 2023, at 34 per cent. 

Alberta RCMP data shows that province-wide, from January to November 2023, police responded to over 100 per cent more drug overdoses than in all of 2022, including frequently suspected fentanyl overdoses with a high fatality rate. According to police, there were 1026 suspected drug poisonings (all drugs combined) from January 2023 to November 2023, compared to 511 in 2022. Of these suspected overdoses, 347 (33.8 per cent) resulted in death. 

"Alberta RCMP also had a 24 per cent increase in the number of naloxone deployments in response to overdoses in 2023. Furthermore, from January to August 2023, there were 1262 opioid-related deaths in Alberta, which is up by 255 compared to the same period in 2022," RCMP stated in a late December 2023 press release. 

Police believe that many of these overdoses appear to be tied to the dangerous practice of cutting Fentanyl.

"To create a cheaper high, Fentanyl is being mixed with other substances that are easier and cheaper to access. A side effect of this mixing is that it reduces the effectiveness of naloxone, meaning more doses are needed to save someone’s life, if it works at all."

One of these substances may be a drug known as Xylazine, or 'Tranq', a non-narcotic analgesic drug that is used in veterinary medicine and is not currently approved for human use in Canada. 

According to the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA), Xylazine has become an increasingly common cutting agent in Canada and may be commonly added to opioids on the unregulated market, particularly fentanyl. Health Canada notes that some of the side effects of Xylazine include tiredness or faintness, respiratory depression, bradycardia, hypotension, hyperglycemia and miosis. 

"For overdoses involving combinations of Xylazine and opioids, naloxone [a medicine that rapidly reverses an opioid overdose] can reverse the opioid effects but has no effect on Xylazine. This can impact the success of the overdose response. There is no pharmaceutical antidote specifically for Xylazine," CCSA stated.

Previously, DiscoverAirdrie spoke to Airdrie resident Samantha Ginter, who works as a harm-reduction advocate. Ginter underlined that the statistics do not always show the human equation of accidental drug poisonings and deaths. She said that each death due to accidental drug poisoning means that a family has lost a father, mother, sister, or brother. Ginter continues to work within Airdrie and surrounding communities as a harm reduction advocate, saying that it was a tragedy within her own family that spurs her forward.

Her partner died of an accidental drug poisoning in his home several years ago. 

"Every time that I run into a hurdle or every story that is shared with me, every experience, every person that cries on my shoulder, every family member that comes to me to say I don't want my person to die; I think of him and we just continue to fight."

As of the week of January 1, 2024, Alberta Emergency Medical Services (EMS) have responded to over 100 opioid-related events in the province. 

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