Opi­oid over­doses on rise in Canada as drug sup­plies up­set by pan­demic

Calgary Herald - - CITY+REGION - MOIRA WAR­BUR­TON

TORONTO Canada’s opi­oid-re­lated deaths have been ris­ing since the coro­n­avirus pan­demic be­gan, the coun­try’s chief pub­lic health of­fi­cer said on Fri­day.

Theresa Tam high­lighted Bri­tish Columbia, Canada’s west­ern­most prov­ince and the epi­cen­tre of the coun­try’s over­dose cri­sis, which had more than 100 deaths from il­licit drugs in both March and April.

“These data in­di­cate a very wor­ry­ing trend,” Tam said. “It has been over a year since Bri­tish Columbia ob­served num­bers this high sus­tained over a two-month pe­riod.”

The trend is na­tion­wide, Tam added, point­ing to Toronto, where the para­medic ser­vice re­ported that April had the high­est num­ber of opi­oid-re­lated deaths in a month since Septem­ber 2017.

In Cal­gary, over­dose in­ter­ven­tions spiked, with safe in­jec­tion sites treat­ing 40 over­doses in both March and April, up sharply from 11 in Fe­bru­ary.

The fed­eral govern­ment an­nounced in March that it would loosen re­stric­tions on phar­ma­cists to pre­scribe safe drug al­ter­na­tives, a pol­icy ac­tivists and ex­perts have rec­om­mended for years.

The pan­demic has af­fected the drug sup­ply chain by clos­ing borders, which has led to the higher death rate, said Guy Feli­cella, a peer clin­i­cal ad­viser with the Bri­tish Columbia Cen­tre on Sub­stance Abuse.

“When (drugs be­come) more chal­leng­ing to get, the po­tency goes up, the price goes up, ev­ery­thing goes up, and in that sense it be­comes more deadly by the day,” Feli­cella said.

The pan­demic ex­ac­er­bated ex­ist­ing prob­lems, he said, adding that safe drug sup­ply mea­sures be­ing brought in are too lit­tle, too late.

“You can’t blame COVID for your lack of re­sponse in ad­dress­ing the over­dose cri­sis,” he said.

ADRIAN WYLD/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

“These data in­di­cate a very wor­ry­ing trend,” Chief Pub­lic Health Of­fi­cer Theresa Tam said of the re­cent spike in opi­oid deaths.

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