Canadian News May 19, 2021 3:17 PM EST

Ontario opioid overdose deaths up 75 percent since pandemic's start

Out of 34 public health units in Ontario, 15 saw their overdose deaths double.

Ontario opioid overdose deaths up 75 percent since pandemic's start
Brendan Boucher Ottawa, ON
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A new report released by the Ontario Drug Policy Research Network at Toronto's St. Michael's Hospital says that fatal opioid overdoses have risen by 75 percent since the beginning of the pandemic. Rural and medium-sized urban centres are among the hardest hit, and the cases where fentanyl is present have risen. The unprecedented rise in opioid deaths correlates with lockdown restrictions, as 75 percent of those who overdosed died alone.

The report also criticized the pandemic programs that placed homeless people in hotels and motels instead of traditional shelters, "We observed relatively large shifts in the location of opioid-related deaths during the pandemic among people experiencing homelessness," the report said. "A significant increase in opioid-related deaths occurred in hotels, motels and inns."

Residents 25-44 saw the most significant increase in overdoses from 608 in 2019 to 1,109 in the same period of 2020. "The role of fentanyl as a direct contributor to opioid-related deaths continued to increase during the pandemic, rising to a prevalence of 87 percent from 75 percent in the pre-pandemic cohort," the report also states.

"The COVID 19 pandemic has accelerated the rate at which fatal opioid overdoses are occurring across the province," Tara Gomes, the co-author of the report, told the Canadian Press. "This is in part due to an increasingly unpredictable drug supply that is contaminated and highly toxic, but also the changes in access to health-care services, as well as the places where people are living, and the lack of support that people have now in the community."

The vast majority of overdose deaths were accidental. Those with knowledge of the crisis seek safe injection sites and safe spaces for drug users to help curve the number of deaths. "It reinforces the dangers of drug use when you're alone, and I think that's probably why we're seeing such harm in these hotels," Gomes said. Ontario is not alone in suffering an increased number of opioid deaths as deaths across the country continue to rise.

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