We've all heard the very troubling news reports in Alberta and across Canada about the growing problem of addiction to opioids, especially fentanyl.
Opioid addition is devastating families and causing an alarming number of deaths among those who – knowingly or unknowingly – make the mistake of using it. The issues associated with opioid addiction touch many different agencies, institutions, public and social service organizations. It touches families, and it touches individuals.
Lethbridge is not immune. Last fall, after hearing about what was happening in our city, I asked a broad range of leaders and organizations in our community to come together to collaborate on how we can respond in the best way possible.
People responded immediately, and this group – which we refer to as the Executive Leaders Coalition on Opioid Use – has been meeting regularly since last November to share knowledge and insight and to begin the substantial work of investigating how other cities around the world are dealing with the array of social community issues that stem from drug addiction.
I'm proud and encouraged that we're being proactive in developing strategies to address this epidemic. The coalition includes representatives from the health, police, justice, emergency medical, post-secondary, municipal, education and social service sectors.
Earlier this month, members of this coalition presented to a Community Issues Committee meeting of City Council members to inform us about the current scope and impact of opioid abuse in our community. They also outlined the collaborative effort that's underway to develop strategies to best respond to the local situation.
What we heard is that addiction to opioids such as fentanyl – a dangerous and highly-addictive form of opioid – has increased rapidly in the past four years. This is resulting locally in alarming increases in overdose deaths, emergency room visits, and treatment of overdose victims by emergency medical responders.
Dr. Karin Goodison, the Medical Officer of Health for Alberta Health Services (AHS)-South Zone, told us that the rates of opioid addiction are epidemic in nature and are a major public health issue for our province. According to AHS statistics, there were six fentanyl overdose deaths across Alberta in 2011 compared to 117 in 2014. The following year, the number of fentanyl overdose deaths more than doubled to 257 and rose to 349 in 2016.
We were also told that opioid addiction afflicts people of all ages from all walks of life but that men between the ages of 25-39 accounted for nearly half all fentanyl overdose deaths in Alberta last year.
We were also told that responding to opioid overdoses has gone from being rare to being a daily occurrence for our Lethbridge Fire and EMS responders. The Lethbridge Police Service has seen corresponding rises in property crime and drug-related violent crime as well as public intoxication, public drug use, aggressive and unpredictable behaviour, and the incidence of drug debris such as used needles being left in public areas.
Police told us that although they continue to respond to investigate, arrest and charge those responsible, arrests alone can't solve the problem of crime driven by addictions; crime and negative behaviour will continue until the cycle of addiction is broken with support services that help people with addictions, including health, social services, education and justice stakeholders.
Locally, harm reduction efforts are led by ARCHES and focus on preventing deaths, the transmission of diseases, and injuries associated with the use of street drugs. The coalition is in the midst of a preliminary community needs assessment to determine whether a safe consumption site with comprehensive in-house support services would be an effective way to deal with the opioid addiction issue in Lethbridge. A report, including recommendations, is expected from the coalition by this summer.
Residential property assessment and tax notices were sent out this week and should be arriving in the mail very soon. We know tax time brings questions from some residents about how their property is assessed and how their tax amounts are calculated. The 2017 residential property tax is $1,056.11 per $100,000 of assessed value. So if your home is assessed at $300,000, for example, your property tax this year will be $3,168.33 ($1,056.11 x 3).
We want it to be as easy as possible for you to find information like this as well as information on how your taxes are used to provide the array of services we all rely on to make our city a safe, inviting place to live and work. You can find helpful information online at www.lethbridge.ca/taxes, but if you still have questions, you can also call 403-320-3950 to talk to a member of our Tax and Assessment department staff.
This was a busy week for City Council. We met as Finance Committee for deliberations on what projects to include in the City's next capital budget, the 2018-2027 Capital Improvement Program (CIP). In addition to utility, transportation, parks and long-term planning projects, we debated a number of community projects, and after considering all of the projects, we collectively decided which ones to recommend for inclusion in the 2018-2027 CIP and which ones to leave out. Late in the week, Finance Committee referred the proposed 2018-2027 CIP to the May 24 meeting of City Council for formal approval.
As I mentioned in last month's column, a fundamental philosophy in our capital budgeting is that we first ensure we take care of what we own before we think about funding things like new community facilities and other infrastructure. At the end of our CIP deliberations this week, I believe we ended up with a capital budget that strikes the right balance – with the limited capital funding available – that will ensure existing infrastructure is well maintained and approval of new community projects that will enhance the quality of life in our city.