Statistics Canada data revealed that more Canadians under 65 died from the "indirect consequences" of pandemic responses than COVID-19.
From the end of March 2020 to the beginning of April 2021, an estimated 62,203 deaths were reported among Canadians aged 0 to 64. This represents 5,535 more deaths than expected in the absence of COVID-19, and after accounting for changes in the population such as ageing. During the same span, there were 1,380 COVID-19-related deaths.
The report, titled Provisional death counts and excess mortality, January 2020 to April 2021, suggests that "the excess mortality is, in large part, related to other factors such as increases in the number deaths attributed to causes associated with substance use and misuse, including unintentional (accidental) poisonings and diseases and conditions related to alcohol consumption."
In Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia, substance use increased in 2020 compared with previous years, specifically unintentional poisonings and overdoses.
Based on the provisional data received so far from the provinces and territories, there were 3,770 deaths caused by unintentional poisoning in 2020 compared to 3,240 such deaths in 2019, with appreciable increases observed in Ontario, to 2,235 compared with 1,550, and Alberta, to 920 compared with 715.
Fatal overdoses were particularly fatal to those under 45, rising from 1,605 in 2019 to 2,125 in 2020. For those 45 and over but under 65, the increase was less substantive at 1,145 in 2019 to 1,395 in 2020.
Statistics Canada acknowledged that the lack of "availability and access to harm reduction programs, supervised consumption services, and in-person support services for substance use" may have contributed to the uptick in excess mortality.
Fatal encounters with alcohol also increased in both age groups but were caused in conjunction with liver disease and mental or behavioural disorders, predominantly. 480 Canadians under 45 died compared to 325 in 2019. 1,790 Canadians 45 and older but under 65 also died in 2020, compared to 1,525 in 2019.
Statistics Canada also suggested the "economic, social, and psychological impacts of the pandemic, as well as the public health measures in place, may have played a role in increasing alcohol use among some individuals." The Canadian Vital Statistics Death Database said it will continue to monitor how other causes of death may have declined during the pandemic.