Co-Chairs’ Statement on Latest National Opioid Data

CA Gov

Today, the co-chairs of the federal, provincial, and territorial Special Advisory Committee on the Epidemic of Opioid Overdoses-Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, and Dr. Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick’s Chief Medical Officer of Health-issued the following statement on the release of the latest surveillance data on opioid- and stimulant-related harms in Canada from January 2016 to September 2022.

Since 2016, Canada has seen a substantial rise in opioid-related harms, including those involving stimulants or other substances. These harms have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and continue to have a devastating impact on people who use substances, their families, and communities across Canada.

While opioid- and stimulant-related harms remain alarmingly high in Canada, the latest national data show a modest decrease in the number of opioid-related deaths, and hospitalizations in the first three-quarters of 2022. From January to September 2022, 5,360 individuals-or an average of 20 people per day-died of an opioid overdose. This represents 8% fewer deaths than over the same period in 2021, when 21 people on average died of an opioid overdose every day. Trends are similar for hospitalizations; between January and September 2022, an average of 14 people were hospitalized each day for opioid-related poisoning in Canada, as compared to 17 people in the same period in 2021.

Though the apparent decrease in opioid- and stimulant-related harms in Canada is encouraging, the data must be interpreted with caution and with the following considerations in mind. First, the mortality data are preliminary and subject to change as death investigations are completed and reported. Second, further time and data are required to determine if the apparent decreases will be sustained and to better understand what may be contributing to these changes. And finally, it is important to emphasize that the rates of harms continue to be very high, and, in the case of mortality, substantially higher than those in pre-pandemic years. Much more needs to be done to address this public health crisis.

Canada has an opportunity to show global leadership in our approach to addressing substance-related harms, just as we have in our public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This means continuing to advance comprehensive, compassionate and evidence-based efforts to reduce harms and promote health and well-being, in both the immediate-term and for future generations.

Showing leadership also means being forward thinking and driven to find innovative solutions, and continually evaluating our progress to help build the global evidence base on what works and in what context. Canada has demonstrated this leadership in, for example, the expansion in the number of supervised consumption sites in recent years across the country, after evidence from the initial sites (which were the first of their kind in North America) demonstrated their effectiveness in responding to overdoses, preventing overdose deaths and drug-related emergencies and connecting clients to health and social services. This leadership is also exemplified in several jurisdictions’ more recent adoption of safer supply initiatives and community-based prevention models that address a wide range of risk and protective factors for substance-related harms.

As with COVID-19 public health efforts, our work to address substance-related harms requires a broad suite of actions across all levels of government. We must remain committed to engaging and working with those who have been disproportionately affected by substance-related harms in order to better understand the complex drivers of this public health crisis, inform prevention, treatment and harm reduction efforts, and how to better address the diverse needs of people who use drugs.

We also continue to encourage families and friends supporting loved ones who use drugs, along with all Canadians, to learn about the signs of an overdose, carry naloxone, and recognize and challenge stigmatizing language and attitudes related to substance use. If someone you know or love is struggling or has questions about substance use, Wellness Together Canada and other resources can help.

Dr. Theresa Tam

Chief Public Health Officer of Canada

Co-chair, Special Advisory Committee on the Epidemic of Opioid Overdoses

Dr. Jennifer Russell

Chief Medical Health Officer, New Brunswick

Co-chair, Special Advisory Committee on the Epidemic of Opioid Overdoses

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