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Opioid-related deaths in Canada increased by 592% over 17 years, according to University of Waterloo study

Opioid-related deaths in Canada increased by 592% over 17 years, according to University of Waterloo study

The number of people who have died from opioids in Canada increased by 592% between 2000 and 2017, according to a new study from the University of Waterloo.

Using data from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), researchers at the university’s school of pharmacy found that there were 20 opioid-related deaths per million people in 2000. This figure rose to 118.3 deaths per million people in 2017.

The study was published online June 25 in Addiction, the journal of the Society for the Study of Addiction.

“After 2015… things exploded. So we had huge increases between 2015 and 2017,” Wasem Alsabbagh, professor of pharmacy and lead author of the study, said in an interview. “But before that, it was done little by little and we did not [pay] a lot of attention to this. “

Alsabbagh said other studies looked at media stories about the opioid epidemic, but that was not really reported until 2013.

“We didn’t see how many people were dying more and more in all of the Canadian provinces during the years 2000 to 2013,” he said.

“It unfortunately did not make the headlines.”

Wasem Alsabbagh, professor in the Faculty of Pharmacy at the University of Waterloo and lead author of the study, says the study results indicate a need for support for people who survive opioid-related hospitalizations. (Submitted by Wasem Alsabbagh.)

Hospitalizations have increased “significantly”

The researchers said it was important to look at the 2000 data because evaluations of opioid-related deaths, hospitalizations and emergency department visits in Canada “relied primarily on provincial databases, while national assessments generally do not provide information until 2016 ”.

Hospitalizations increased “significantly” between 2000 and 2012, from 159.7 opioid hospitalizations per million people in 2000 to 325.3 hospitalizations in 2012, the study said.

Emergency room visits also increased 188%, from 280.6 per million people in 2000 to 810.1 in 2012. Alsabbagh said researchers were still awaiting updated figures for hospitalizations and emergency room visits. after 2012.

Increase in overdoses and deaths

Opioid overdoses and suspected deaths remain high across the country.

In the Waterloo region, paramedics said they responded to 39 overdoses from June 27 to July 3, 2021, with 11 of those calls on July 2. As of June 4, the region had reported 49 suspected opioid-related deaths.

Wellington’s Guelph Drug Strategy on Tuesday reported that three deaths in the past month were suspected to be due to opioid overdoses, and that there had been seven suspected overdoses in the previous five days.

A drug strategy press release highlighted fentanyl red, which is “considered particularly toxic”.

In British Columbia, on average, six people die each day from opioid use, and the province is on track to record more than 2,000 deaths this year. These include a 12-year-old girl from Vancouver Island who died in April. Her family said her death occurred during her fourth overdose.

The pandemic could also play a significant role in increasing opioid overdoses and deaths. A national report from last October found that the overall health of Canadians deteriorated in the first eight months of the pandemic and showed more people were turning to drugs, alcohol, tobacco and the weather. spent in front of a screen rather than physical exercise to cope with stress.

In the report, frontline workers told PHAC that social restrictions caused people to use opioids only, “decreasing the chance of overdose intervention and contributing to the increase in overdose-related deaths. “.

CBC Kitchener-Waterloo reached out to Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu for comment on the University of Waterloo study and asked what the government would do to tackle the opioid epidemic, but did not not received a response.

Rows of white crosses were erected in downtown Sudbury, Ont., In January to serve as a memorial to more than 150 people who died from the opioid crisis. (Sarah MacMillan / CBC)

In April, Hajdu announced $ 1.7 million in funding for projects led by Community Addictions Peer Support Association and Moms Stop the Harm to help them tackle substance use stigma to help people affected by a family member living with an addiction.

In May, Hajdu also announced funding to expand the safe supply program to Guelph.

“We need to do more to reach those most at risk,” Hajdu said in a press release on Guelph’s Safe Supply Program.

Post-overdose support

Alsabbagh said the researchers also noted that between 2000 and 2011, the number of people who died for whatever reason within one year of being discharged from hospital for treatment for an opioid-related reason increased from 3, 9% to 7.4%.

He said this shows there is a need for support for people who survive opioid-related hospitalizations.

“What is happening to these people, we don’t know exactly, but we do know that we should be offering them more care, more support, more links to programs to help them with use disorder. opioids. “

It’s a complex issue, he noted, with many medical and social aspects, so it takes a multidisciplinary team that works together to help the person. This can include pharmacists who can work with patients and people who prescribe drugs, to make sure opioids are only prescribed when needed, Alsabbagh said.

He added that the opioid epidemic not only hurts the individual, it can hurt the community.

“No one is safe from the opioid epidemic. We tend to think of it as only happening to marginalized people … well, it is happening everywhere.”

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