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The opioid epidemic is taking lives and tearing families apart across Calgary and the province of Alberta. More people die in Calgary of an accidental drug overdose–usually an opioid–than from any other cause of accidental death.

Alberta Health says 449 people died from opioid overdoses in the province during the first six months of this year. Almost double the number of deaths reported in Alberta from the novel coronavirus during the same period.

Elaine Hyshka, an assistant professor at the School of Public Health at the University of Alberta, said “COVID-19 is definitely playing a role. We’ve heard and seen growing evidence of disruptions in illegal drug supply in terms of border closures and other factors that are leading to more dangerous drugs for sale on the streets,” she said. “We’ve also seen reductions in the number of people seeking care in harm reduction services and treatment clinics.”

The Problem

Nearly every person in Calgary has been touched in some way by addiction. Whether it’s through personal experience, or that of a family member or a friend, the opioid epidemic has hurt people all across our city.

  • The vast majority (284) of Alberta’s accidental overdose deaths in the second quarter involved fentanyl, a 54 per cent increase from the first quarter. Meanwhile, overdoses from opioids other than fentanyl continue to decline.
  • The Alberta Health Services Calgary zone is the site of 115 of those 284 fentanyl-related deaths, the highest count among any provincial health zone and the most ever for the city. The Edmonton zone had 99 fentanyl-related deaths.
  • About half of all Calgary deaths due to fentanyl overdoses occurred at the victim’s home. The neighborhoods of Beltline, Albert Park, Forest Heights and Dover all suffered five or more such deaths, but overdoses were recorded in all quadrants of the city and in many suburban communities.
  • More fentanyl overdoses are coming from a cross-contamination of drugs, with 82 per cent of the deaths listed as having more than one substance contributing to the death. Methamphetamine is most commonly found, in 58 per cent of the overdoses, while cocaine is present in 30 per cent of fentanyl deaths.

Opioid Definitions

Opioids—like fentanyl, morphine, oxycodone and hydromorphone—are medications that can help relieve pain. However, opioids are also available illegally. Illegal opioids are any opioids that are made, shared or sold illegally. The most common forms are:

  • codeine
  • oxycodone
  • methadone
  • hydromorphone
  • fentanyl

Opioids can be pharmaceutical-grade and prescribed by physicians and surgeons. Prescription opioids can end up for illegal sale on the street. These can be “cut” or tainted with other compounds, including fentanyl.


Fentanyl is a very strong, odourless and tasteless synthetic narcotic about 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. Non-illicit fentanyl is typically prescribed to control severe pain.

Illicitly manufactured fentanyl is being imported, mixed with other drugs and illegally sold in pill form (fake oxys and other club drugs) or powder form (as heroin or fent) and powder form mixed into other drugs (for example, cocaine, crystal meth, etc.).

Three or 4 grains of fentanyl are enough to kill an average adult.


Carfentanil is a fentanyl analogue and opioid drug 10,000 times more potent than morphine and 100 times more potent than fentanyl. It is not licensed for use in humans, but is meant to sedate large animals under strict safety conditions, such as elephants.

One grain can kill an adult.

Signs of Overdose

  • Breathing is slow or not breathing at all
  • Blue nails and/or lips
  • Choking or throwing up
  • Making gurgling sounds
  • Skin is cold and clammy
  • Won’t wake up

Overdoses can happen if you take:

  • an opioid not prescribed for you
  • more opioids than prescribed for you, such as a higher dose
  • an opioid with alcohol or other drugs (e.g., anxiety medication, muscle relaxants, or sleeping pills)
  • an opioid that has been tampered with (e.g., broken or crushed)
  • illegally produced or obtained opioids
  • If you have stopped taking opioids for a while and start taking them again, you can be at risk of an overdose because your body is not used to the drug anymore.

If you suspect an opioid overdose, you should:

  • Call 9-1-1 (or your local emergency helpline) and stay at the scene
  • Give naloxone, if you have it
  • Know that the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act protects you from simple drug possession charges

Signs of Opioid Addiction

  • Increase or decrease in appetite; changes in eating habits, unexplained weight loss or gain.
  • A smell of substance on breath, body or clothes.
  • Extreme hyperactivity; excessive talkativeness.
  • Needle marks or bruises on the lower arm, legs or bottom of feet.
  • Change in overall attitude/personality with no other identifiable cause.
  • Changes in friends: new hang-outs, avoidance of old crowd, new friends are drug users.
  • Change in activities; loss of interest in things that were important before.
  • Drop in school or work performance; skips or is late to school or work.
  • Changes in habits at home; loss of interest in family and family activities.
  • Difficulty in paying attention; forgetfulness.
  • Lack of motivation, energy, self-esteem, discipline. Bored, “I don’t care” attitude.
  • Defensiveness, temper tantrums, resentful behavior (everything’s a hassle)
  • Unexplained moodiness, irritability, or nervousness.
  • Violent temper or bizarre behavior.
  • Unexplained silliness or giddiness.
  • Paranoia — overly suspicious.
  • Excessive need for privacy; keeps the door locked or closed, won’t let people in.
  • Secretive or suspicious behavior.
  • Car accidents, fender benders, household accidents.
  • Chronic dishonesty; trouble with the police.
  • Unexplained need for money; can’t explain where their money goes; stealing.
  • Unusual effort to cover arms, legs.
  • Change in personal grooming habits.
  • Possession of drug paraphernalia.

How Opiates Affect the Brain

Both humans and animals have opiate receptors in the brain. These receptors act as action sites for different types of opiates, such as heroin and morphine.

The reason the brain has these receptor sites is because of the existence of endogenous (internal) neurotransmitters that act on these receptor sites and produce responses in the body that are similar to those of opiate drugs.

Opiates and opioids work by binding to specific receptors in the brain, mimicking the effects of pain-relieving chemicals that are produced naturally. These drugs bind to opiate receptors in the brain, spinal cord, and other locations in the body. This blocks the perception of pain. Opiates can cause feelings of well-being, but they can also cause side effects such as nausea, confusion, and drowsiness.

In addition to relieving pain, opiates can lead to feelings of euphoria. While these drugs are often very effective in treating pain, people can eventually develop a tolerance, so they require higher doses to achieve the same effects.

Intervention Services in Calgary, Alberta

Help for Getting Your Loved Ones into Rehab for Treatment of Opioid Addiction.

Finding the right intervention specialist for your loved one can make the difference between success and failure. A successful intervention can change your loved one’s life. You owe it to them to try to do whatever it takes to get them the help that they so desperately need.

When most people search online for interventionist teams, they use the search term “interventionists near me” which can lead to results that are not necessarily appropriate for your specific circumstances.

Choosing an interventionist that has some reality with the specific addiction may have better results that will lead to a common ground between the person holding the intervention and the individual, who needs to realize that they do need the help that is being offered.

If you have found that you are facing an underlying addiction problem with a husband, wife, spouse, son, daughter or any other loved one in your life, It is imperative that you look for help from a professionally trained interventionist. Giving our trained intervention specialists can help narrow down the search parameters for interventionists near you. We offer professional intervention services in Calgary, Alberta for opioid addiction, alcohol addiction, all drug addictions, and any other addictive behaviors that are causing problems in your or your loved ones’ life.