Opioid crisis update: 10,000 deaths 2016-2018

May 16, 2019

According to new data released by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), more than 10,000 Canadians have died from opioid overdoses over the period of 2016-2018. The findings released in the report demonstrate that the opioid crisis has affected every part of Canada, and that there are clear differences in numbers of deaths and the substances involved across different provinces and territories.

The statistics show that 3,286 Canadians died from opioid-related overdoses between January and September of 2018. Moreover, according to the report, 93% of deaths were accidental. The findings indicate that most accidental opioid-related deaths occurred in males (accounting for 75% of all deaths), with the vast majority of accidental deaths occurring in the young adult age group. The report also shows that so far, the third quarter of 2018 was the deadliest quarter since the start of data collection in 2016, with a total of 1,162 deaths occurring between July and September 2018.

Fentanyl and fentanyl-related substances were demonstrated to be the main substances causing deaths, responsible for 73% of total deaths for the period of January to September 2018. The death rate was determined to be 11.8 per 100,000 individuals for the selected year.

According to PHAC, the provinces of British Columbia, Ontario, and Alberta experienced the highest rates of opioid-related deaths. In a press release, Federal Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor said the released statistics represent the “significant impact” the opioid crisis is having on Canadians. “Each death is a tragedy that takes its toll on families, friends and communities,” she said. Taylor also said that to address the opioid crisis, the federal government has proposed additional funding of $30.5 million provided over a five year period, as outlined in its 2019 budget. Moreover, she said the government would provide another $1 million as ongoing funding for “targeted” measures to focus on “persistent gaps” in opioid harm reduction and treatment.

Canada’s growing national opioid crisis has been declared a public health emergency by Health Canada. The crisis is considered to be a complex health and social issue which requires a response that is “comprehensive, collaborative, compassionate and evidence-based.” According to a recent research study published in the medical journal The Lancet, the increasing number of opioid-related deaths show that the interventions implemented to date are not sufficient to prevent crisis growth. The study cites three main drivers of the opioid crisis in Canada. They include rising numbers of increasingly potent medical opioid prescriptions since the year 2000, the unprecedented rise in the availability of synthetic opioids (including fentanyl) and hazardous analogues, such as carfentanil, due to government’s efforts to decrease medical opioid supply, and a crisis of toxic drug exposure.

The researchers suggest that the current opioid crisis constitutes a much greater challenge than the previous opioid crisis experienced in Canada in 1990s, because it involves a significantly larger population at risk and the availability of synthetic opioids, which are more dangerous.