A new report released on Tuesday shows that opioid-related deaths in Ontario have spiked 40 percent since the start of the pandemic, CTV News reports. The study was jointly funded by the Canadian Institute of Health Research and the Ontario government.
According to Dr. Tara Gomes of St. Michael's Hospital, "[Ontario is] likely to exceed 2,200 opioid-related deaths in Ontario this year, which far surpasses the number that we've had any previous year" if deaths continue at the same rate. By comparison, 3,300 people have died of COVID-19 in Ontario this year so far.
While the opioid crisis always impacted men more than women, the disparity has grown since the start of the pandemic. 78 percent of opioid-related deaths were among men, up from 70 percent prior to the pandemic.
Dr. Gomes believes that pandemic-related lockdown measures are likely to primarily be driving the spike, pointing to the fact that 74 percent of those who died of opioid-related causes were alone at the time.
"This can likely be tied to some of these measures that are in place, that are required, for the COVID-19 pandemic around physical distancing and decreased access to harm reduction services," Gomes argues. "This all comes together to create more opportunity for harm in this population."
"It's not really surprising. These measures which are required for COVID-19 are very dangerous for people who use drugs," Gomes continued.
Gomes points to similar trends seen in British Columbia, where opioid deaths in September of 2020 were more than double of that from the previous September. 127 people died of opioid-related causes in September, although this is down from a record 175 in June.
"We need to speak with people working on the ground—harm reduction workers—and people who use drugs to understand the implications of [pandemic-related] changes on their lives," Gomes finished.
The spike in opioid deaths corresponds with skyrocketing rates of mental illness during the pandemic, a trend which has been observed internationally. In the UK, one study found rates of mental distress increased from 18.9 percent to 27.3 percent by April 2020, only a few months into the pandemic. In the United States, over 40 percent of adults have reported experiencing more mental health problems since the start of the pandemic.
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