Over 2,800 deaths linked to opi­oids

CANA­DIAN OF­FI­CIALS EX­PECT TO­TAL TO EX­CEED 3,000 THIS YEAR

Lethbridge Herald - - HEADLINE NEWS - Sh­eryl Ubelacker THE CANA­DIAN PRESS — TORONTO

At least 2,816 Cana­di­ans died from opi­oid-re­lated causes in 2016 and that num­ber “will al­most cer­tainly” sur­pass 3,000 in 2017, the coun­try’s chief pub­lic health of­fi­cer pre­dicted Thurs­day, as of­fi­cials out­lined the grow­ing scope of the epi­demic.

While the west­ern prov­inces have been hardest-hit — there were 978 il­licit drug over­dose deaths in B.C. and 586 ap­par­ently opi­oid-re­lated deaths in Al­berta in 2016 — the num­bers of peo­ple dy­ing in East­ern Canada are also ris­ing. For ex­am­ple, On­tario had 865 deaths last year and Nova Sco­tia had 53 as a re­sult of opi­oid-re­lated tox­i­c­ity.

“No area of Canada is nec­es­sar­ily safe from this cri­sis,” Dr. Theresa Tam told a me­dia brief­ing from Ot­tawa.

Cana­di­ans aged 30 to 39 ac­counted for the high­est pro­por­tion of deaths re­lated to the po­tent nar­cotics, at 28 per cent over­all, although the fig­ures var­ied widely across the coun­try.

“We are be­gin­ning to get a bet­ter pic­ture of the kinds of drugs that are fu­elling this epi­demic,” said Tam, not­ing that il­licit syn­thetic fen­tanyl and fen­tanyl-like drugs are a ma­jor driver of over­dose deaths in the hardest-hit ar­eas of the coun­try.

Deaths in­volv­ing fen­tanyl more than dou­bled in the first three months of 2017 com­pared to the same pe­riod in 2016, she said.

“We’re also see­ing that this is not a cri­sis in­volv­ing only opi­oids. Many of the over­doses in­volved a mix of sub­stances.

“In fact, 84 per cent of ap­par­ent opi­oid-re­lated deaths also in­volved a sub­stance that was not an opi­oid, adding to the com­plex­ity in ad­dress­ing the cri­sis.”

Those sub­stances in­clude al­co­hol, co­caine and ben­zo­di­azepines, a class of anti-anx­i­ety drugs that in­cludes Val­ium (di­azepam) and Ati­van (lo­razepam).

Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Sco­tia’s chief pub­lic health of­fi­cer, said the num­ber of deaths from il­licit opi­oid use var­ied widely across the coun­try: in Al­berta, 64 per cent in­volved fen­tanyl, while only 15 per cent of deaths in Nova Sco­tia were linked to the pow­er­ful drug.

“This data il­lus­trated to us that we are fac­ing two dif­fer­ent but over­lap­ping is­sues,” Strang said. “First, over­dose deaths from pre­scrip­tion opi­oids and sec­ond, over­dose deaths from il­licit drugs laced with fen­tanyl or other syn­thetic opi­oids.”

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