Edmonton’s Alberta Avenue neighbourhood is fighting a recent increase in opioid overdoses by training residents to administer life-saving naloxone.
One teenager who lives in the inner city neighbourhood says he put his training to use this week when he gave naloxone to an unresponsive man lying on the street.
Conall MacLellan, 14, was riding his bike down 103rd Avenue in downtown Edmonton when he spotted a man curled up on the sidewalk.
The man was not moving. His eyes were shut and his lips were blue, MacLellan said.
“I was really scared,” MacLellan said in an interview Thursday. “I mean I’d seen overdoses before but now was my first chance, that I could help.”
MacLellan checked for a pulse. He decided to call 911 and told the operator he had a naloxone kit.
“I said that I was going to apply it,” MacLellan told CBC News. “I told them my age and they were a bit surprised.”
MacLellan jabbed the vial into the man’s leg. Within a minute or two, the man started to move his arms and regained consciousness, MacLellan said.
Naloxone, used widely as a rapid overdose antidote, temporarily reverses the slowed breathing caused by opioids.
In Alberta, the drug is available over the counter and kits are available are available free of charge at walk-in clinics and pharmacies.
MacLellan had recently learned how to administer the drug. He is one of more than a dozen Alberta Avenue residents who took part in a training session last week.
The training was the idea of McCauley resident Maggie Glasgow, who had asked licensed practical nurse Kelsey Boychuk to teach residents how to deliver naloxone.
Boychuk, also a local resident and on the board of the Alberta Avenue community league, was proud of MacLellan’s act.
“That really sucks that he had to do that,” she said at first and then thought, “Yes, we are able, we are empowered, we can do this.”
MacLellan’s mother, Kathryn Rambow, also took the training.
She said she’s amazed but not surprised that her son jumped into action.
“Conall has always been a caring person,” she said. “He notices injustice and he cares about people that other people might not notice.”
Rambow said she has noticed an increase in incidents of people passed out in alleys, on sidewalks, on patches of grass around the neighbourhood.
It seems little is being done to address the crisis and help drug users, she said.
“It seems like it’s the community that ends up having to try and take care of them in ways that we aren’t really equipped to, other than we can reverse and overdose, and then what?”
Incidents on the rise
On Wednesday, Alberta Health Services said there were 139 opioid-related emergency calls in Edmonton from July 12 to July 18.
Between January 2020 and March 2021, the highest number in any month was 20 cases.
In April, there were 39 opioid-related emergency calls. By June that number jumped to 109.
Tricia Smith, executive director of Boyle McCauley Health Centre, said overdoses have been increasing steadily since April.
“The numbers are astronomically higher in terms of overdose or poisoning,” Smith said.
Smith said there are a lot of possible reasons behind the increase.
“There could be tainted drug supply, there could be individuals dealing with some additional trauma,” she said. “Part of this could be the reduction in available spaces for safe use.”
The safe consumption site at Boyle Street Community Services closed at the end of April, on orders from the provincial government.
While George Spady Centre increased its capacity from offering booths overnight to 24/7, there’s still a gap in safe consumption spaces, she said.
The condition of the man MacLellan helped is still not known, as Alberta Health Services says they need consent from a patient before providing those details.