Opioid overdoses on rise in Canada as drug supplies upset by pandemic
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.
“These data indicate a very worrying trend,” Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam said of the recent spike in opioid deaths.