New report exhibits how the opioid disaster is affecting younger folks in Alberta

Alberta is well on its way to hit a new record high in opioid-related deaths among adolescents in 2021.

According to a new report from the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate Alberta, 95 people under the age of 25 died of accidental opioid poisoning last year.

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29 deaths have been reported as of the first quarter of 2021, with Alberta currently well on its way to having its most devastating year ever.

According to the data, the total number of opioid poisoning-related deaths among Alberta under 25 over the past five years was:

  • 2016: 64
  • 2017: 84
  • 2018: 71
  • 2019: 62
  • 2020: 95

Of the opioid-related deaths from June 26, 2018 to March 31, 2021, 23 percent were between 12 and 17 years old, 64 percent were female and more than half were indigenous youth.

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The report – Renewed Focus: A Follow-up Report on Youth Opioid Use in Alberta – expands on an initial report from 2018. OCYA Executive Director Terri Pelton says the new edition includes updated recommendations for the province to help slow the crisis .

“This report [in 2018] had five recommendations and we’ve seen some progress in the past three years, but there hasn’t been any real pull, ”she said.

“We want a public body to be developed that includes people with lived experience who provide input and feedback in developing and implementing a youth strategy.”

Pelton says having a youth-specific strategy is key to making sure that young people actually benefit from it.

“When you talk about minimizing harm to young people, you feel like, ‘Oh, we shouldn’t be doing that. They are just children. ‘ But if we don’t meet them where they are and prevent them from dying, we can’t come for intervention and follow-up, ”she said.

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Lori Hatfield stars in Lethbridge for Moms Stop the Harm. She says the numbers in the report are a sad reminder that existing services across the province are inadequate.

“It’s not at all surprising,” said Hatfield.

“If we have a provincial government that doesn’t support damage control, our numbers can only go up. Because the only way to bring those numbers down is to limit the damage to people who use drugs. “

Hatfield hopes the data will serve as a wake-up call.

“They know they hear the numbers go up week after week,” she said. “But when it comes to teenagers, and these are our precious children, you’d think people would stop and say, ‘Okay, we have a problem here.'”

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Jason Luan, Alberta’s deputy minister for mental health and addiction, responded to the report to the legislature on Wednesday, saying his heart aches for every life lost.

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“During the COVID-19 pandemic, I have to say that COVID has accelerated the entire crisis,” he said. “It has appeared everywhere, in this case also among the youth.”

Luan says he takes pride in the creative resources the province recently launched, including some virtual and phone-based services that are particularly aimed at teenagers.

“No matter where you are, you can access support services around the clock through one of these virtual avenues,” said Luan. “For the young population, as you can see, they are in the best position to benefit from it compared to the elderly and others.”

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Pelton says speaking with people across the province while the report was being drafted made it clear that more can be done to offer options to youth in need.

“So many times we’ve heard that the beds are not available when young people are ready for a detox, for example,” Pelton said. “When they’re done detox and finished treatment or detox, there isn’t enough follow-up support.

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“So somehow they are left over, and when they start using opioids again, their tolerance level drops and they are more likely to die of opioid poisoning.”

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The OCYA is an independent bureau of the Alberta Legislature that represents the rights, interests and viewpoints of young people receiving government services.

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