Over 2,800 deaths linked to opioids
CANADIAN OFFICIALS EXPECT TOTAL TO EXCEED 3,000 THIS YEAR
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.”