After Alberta experienced its deadliest month on record for opioid deaths, some health researchers are calling for the province to return to neighborhood-level data release, arguing it could help save lives.
But the provincial government is not yet obligated to tell Breaking: in an email about privacy concerns.
Elaine Hyshka is the Canada Research Chair in Health Systems Innovation at the University of Alberta School of Public Health. She said researchers often wait for the county to release timely data, even though numbers began to climb around 2015.
“People on the ground are really flying blind when it comes to who’s dying. Where are they dying? What kind of programs and services can we put in place in those specific areas to immediately save lives?” said Hyshka.
“There’s just no way to do that without access to information. So I hope the government will commit to following British Columbia’s example and releasing that data on a monthly basis.”
Neighborhood-level data in Edmonton and Calgary and trends in the spatial distribution of overdoses in the other major cities around Alberta used to be accessible to researchers but is no more.
The county also hasn’t released reviews of medical examiner data related to opioid-related deaths in years, the latest linked to data from 2017.
That report included assessments of each death, the jobs they held, their incarceration history and more, Hyshka said.
“These factors would then point to parts of the system that we should focus on, right? So, for example, if we see a lot of people dying coming out of prison, then we would focus on improving programs within carceral settings.” ” she said.
“We haven’t had that review done since 2017. BC has done at least two since then. So that’s one thing I’d like to see.”
Several organizations have called for changes in the way opioid data is reported in Alberta.
In February 2022, the Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association said it had twice asked for local geographic area data for opioid poisoning deaths and calls to EMS, but received no replies.
When it came to these most recent calls for updates, Hunter Baril, a spokesman for the province, said Alberta’s substance use monitoring system is more comprehensive than what previously appeared in opioid surveillance reports.
“While local geographic data is used to make decisions about necessary support and services, neighborhood-level data is not publicly released in order to protect the privacy of Albertans and avoid stigmatization of those struggling with addiction,” he wrote in a statement.
Hyshka said it would be possible to release the data without privacy implications, adding that the government routinely published them until the end of 2020.
“All this data does is tell us where people are dying. I think the goal of efficiently addressing lifesaving interventions outweighs any abstract concerns related to ‘neighborhood stigma,'” Hyshka said in an email.
“In fact, I think the maps show that these fatalities are happening in different cities and that no neighborhood is immune.”
The number of opioid-related deaths in Alberta reached 179 in April, the highest number since the province began collecting data in 2016, according to the provincial government. substance use monitoring system. The figures were updated on Monday.
Weekly EMS responses to opioid-related emergencies have also increased in frequency this year, with the weeks of June 5 and June 12 being the third and fourth highest on record, respectively.
View from street level group
Samantha Ginter is the program coordinator for the Alberta Alliance Who Educates and Advocates Responsibly (AAWEAR) chapter in Red Deer. She said neighborhood-level data would be valuable — if the privacy of those using resources was protected.
AAWEAR performs street outreach, which involves face-to-face work with people living on the streets.
“I think there are benefits to releasing this information to organizations working on the front lines as a way of knowing where support is most needed,” she said.
There are privacy concerns, but it’s difficult for neighborhoods to use response strategies at this point given the available data, said Kathryn Dong, an associate professor in the department of emergency medicine at the University of Alberta.
“There will be areas that we can’t report in detail because of the low numbers,” she said.
“But I do think we should be able to find a compromise in terms of respecting privacy and confidentiality and not stigmatizing certain neighborhoods, but also giving communities access to information that will help them respond locally to what they see.”
Hyshka and Dong also said more information should be made public about the effects of the provincial government’s strategies to address the opioid crisis, such as the impact of new addiction treatment beds and the Digital overdose response system (DORS) app.
Since its launch last year, the DORS app has registered about 1,600 individuals, with about 250 unique individuals using it, meaning they’ve started a session, Baril said.
This has resulted in 110 contacts with the STARS emergency center and 24 emergency calls, he said.
The county did not respond at publication time to specific questions about how many people were currently waiting for beds, how many people received treatment last year, and how many people completed treatment in 2022.