The latest Health Canada data on overdose deaths shows the problem that began in B.C. continues to intensify in other areas of the county and suggests there’s no end to the crisis in sight.
There were 3,017 opioid-related deaths across Canada in 2016, 4,100 the following year, and then 4,460 in 2018, according to statistics released yesterday (June 13).
The latest numbers mean that last year someone in Canada died after taking opioids roughly once every two hours.
"Western Canada continues to be the most impacted region of the country, but rates have increased in other regions, including Ontario,” the Health Canada report reads. “Although regional variation exists, analysis of trends at the national level suggest that a significant increase in rates of apparent opioid related deaths was observed between January 2016 and June 2017; the rates remained high from July 2017 to December 2018.”
The primary factor driving Canada’s increase in overdose deaths is fentanyl, a synthetic-opioid that is replacing heroin in black markets for drugs across the country.
“In 2018, 73 percent of accidental apparent opioid-related deaths involved fentanyl or fentanyl analogues,” the report reads. “At the national level, a significant increase in rates of accidental apparent opioid-related deaths involving fentanyl or fentanyl analogues was observed between January 2016 and June 2017; the rates remained high from July 2017 to December 2018.”
In B.C., the percentage of illicit-drug overdose deaths involving fentanyl has increased from four percent in 2012 to 15 percent in 2013, 25 percent in 2014, 29 percent in 2015, 67 percent in 2016, 82 percent in 2017, and 87 percent in 2018, according to the province’s coroners service.
A June 13 release accompanying Health Canada’s stats for 2018 includes frank quotes from the country’s top health officials.
“The epidemic of opioid overdoses continues to be the most challenging public health crisis in recent decades, and the devastating impacts of the crisis continue to be felt in many parts of the country, from Canada’s largest cities to rural and remote communities,” Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, said there.
“Recently, Statistics Canada reported that, for the first time in four decades, the life expectancy of Canadians did not increase, largely because of the opioid crisis,” Tam, who also co-chairs the Special Advisory Committee on the Epidemic of Opioid Overdoses, continued. “To respond to the crisis, we must continue to address the illegal drug supply and to work together to implement additional harm-reduction measures. We have seen that a combination of harm-reduction measures—such as access to supervised consumption sites, naloxone, and evidence-based treatments— are helping to save lives.
“There is still much work to be done to abate the opioid crisis, and Canadians can be assured that addressing it remains our priority.”