‘Young people losing their hands’: Calgary cold months cause concern for vulnerable

Colder months see higher substance-use deaths and more injuries related to frostbite. Taylor Braat looks reports.

Calgary is expecting a cold snap, and those who work in addictions and treatment services are concerned about frostbite injuries for people sleeping rough.

“You have young people losing their hands, it just really highlights the gaps in care,” Dr. Kate Colizza said.

“Frostbite is a very different type of injury — its not one that will heal with time. We’re asking young people to let us in hospital amputate their hands and feet, and there’s already mistrust that exists between institutions and people who have been traumatized by institutions.”

She adds people sometimes need to stay for weeks or a month to be treated, many of whom struggle with substance use.

“You keep someone in the hospital for a month — and this goes for infections, frostbite injuries — you could house that person in a nice place easily for a year based on the cost of that admission.”

Colizza say data shows more deaths related to substance use happen in colder months, and with Calgary expecting a cold snap.

“We’re going to see a lot of people coming in the days to weeks following that with horrible injuries, horribly life altering injuries,” Colizza said.


On Friday, new data for substance use-related deaths in 2022 were adjusted — 366 deaths were added between September and November — a total of over 1,400.

Euan Thomson, executive director at EACH + EVERY: Businesses for Harm Reduction, says he has noticed increases in data from 2021, which was the deadliest year on record for Alberta.

“I’ve learned to not trust the numbers that come out from the government at this point –- they’re undercounting by about 30 per cent under what the eventual number is going to be by the time the dust clears and the medical examiner is able to do their work,” Thompson said.

The original report of more than 1,700 deaths in 2021, after being adjusted it’s now almost 1,850.

Minister for Mental Health and Addictions Nicholas Miliken tells CityNews “depending on the circumstances surrounding an individual death, the length of the medical examiner’s review can vary. As such, reported fatalities as a result of any cause will change over time as new data becomes available.”

But Thomson says it’s alarming when it’s used to guide policy.

“We’ve got a chief of staff to the premier Marshall Smith who is just pulling numbers out of thin air to claim the political win here — that the Alberta model for substance use in addiction treatment is working,” he explained.

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