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Another Canadian health crisis — opioid overdoses — has dire modelling of its own

Health

The latest data from a federal special advisory committee on opioid overdoses shows that opioid-related deaths could remain high and even increase in the next six months.

An Ontario Provincial Police officer displays bags containing fentanyl during a news conference in Vaughan, Ont., in 2017. The number of deaths and hospitalizations related to opioids remained high in the first half of 2021.(Chris Young/Canadian Press)

The latest data from a federal special advisory committee on opioid overdoses shows that opioid-related deaths could remain high and even increase in the next six months.

In a statement released today, co-chairs Dr. Theresa Tam and Dr. Jennifer Russell said that the number of deaths and hospitalizations related to opioids remained high in the first half of 2021.

On average, 19 people died and 16 people were hospitalized due to opioid-related overdoses every day.

They added that more than half of opioid-related deaths also involved the use of a stimulant like cocaine or methamphetamine, which underscores how the overdose crisis is tied to the consumption of more than one drug at once.

Improved access to naloxone needed

The data suggests that the people most affected by the overdose crisis are men, people aged 20 to 49, and those who live in Western Canada and Ontario.

Tam, Canada's chief public health officer, and Russell, New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health, said current projections suggest that between 1,200 and 2,000 people could die during each quarter through to June 2022.

They said the modelling projections highlight the importance of working collectively to prevent harms from substance use and help people who use drugs to access supports.

Actions that can address this problem include improved access to naloxone, supervised consumption sites and safer supply programs, said Tam and Russell.

"While harm reduction interventions are essential, we must not lose sight of the importance of the broader conditions that impact substance use," they said.

They pointed to the broader context in which substance use takes place, saying that efforts like ensuring affordable housing for all, fostering social connection within communities, and supporting positive child and youth development can help prevent substance use-related harms.

Tam and Russell called on jurisdictions to work together on improving how they share and compare data, so that decision-makers have the evidence needed to inform policies and programs.

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