Opioids killed nearly 4,000 people in Canada in 2017, new data confirms

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      Opioids killed nearly 4,000 people in Canada in 2017, according to preliminary data released by the federal government.

      "We are seeing an unprecedented number of opioid-related overdoses in Canada," reads a June 19 media release. "This national public health crisis continues to devastate Canadians from all walks of life, in both rural and urban areas. It affects people who use drugs, their families, their friends and their communities."

      The exact number is 3,987. However, that figure is expected to rise as data from Quebec is still coming in and for now only covers six months of the year.

      In 2016, there were 2,978 overdose deaths recorded across Canada.

      B.C. experienced both the highest number of deaths and the highest rate of deaths after adjusting for population.

      There were 29 fatal overdoses in B.C. per 100,000 people in 2017. That compares to a rate of 16.7 in Alberta, 15.6 in the Yukon, and 7.9 in Ontario.

      There were 1,470 illicit-drug overdose deaths in B.C. in 2017, according to Health Canada's collection of data from the country's 13 provinces and territories.

      Meanwhile, Ontario saw 1,263 fatal overdoses, Alberta saw 759, and Manitoba saw 122.

      A December 2017 Health Canada report predicted that the number of overdose deaths that year could approach 4,000. The ministry's June 19 report confirms that previous estimate.

      The document describes the proliferation of fentanyl—a synthetic opioid significantly stronger than heroin—as a primary factor driving Canada's overdose crisis.

      "Available data reported as of June 6, 2018, suggest that more accidental apparent opioid-related deaths have involved fentanyl or fentanyl analogues over time," it reads. "The number of accidental apparent opioid-related deaths involving fentanyl or fentanyl analogues increased by 81% between 2016 and 2017."

      The report adds that it is largely illicit drugs, as opposed to prescription opioids obtained from a doctor, that are responsible for overdose deaths in Canada.

      "Opioid-related harms are rising despite declines in both the number of prescriptions for opioids and the total amount dispensed from Canadian pharmacies," reads a second Health Canada media release. "Illegal fentanyl continues to be a factor in many opioid-related deaths and its increased presence and toxicity in the drug supply is fuelling the opioid crisis."

      A similar epidemic of drug-overdose deaths is playing out across the United States. In 2016—the most-recent year for which national data is available—there were nearly 64,000 fatal overdoses in America, according to the U.S. National Vital Statistics System.