'A major public health crisis': Report shows growing rates of opioid overdoses
Published Thursday, September 14, 2017 11:06AM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, September 14, 2017 9:57PM EDT
A new report paints a grim picture of the country’s opioid crisis, including statistics that show opioid overdoses hospitalize an average of 16 Canadians every day.
The study from the Canadian Institute for Health Information shows Canadians are being sent to hospital for opioid poisonings at a rate 53 per cent higher than a decade ago.
Nearly half that spike has come over the past three years.
Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, says opioid overdoses are a “major public health crisis,” noting there were at least 2,816 deaths in 2016 linked to opioids and the 2017 number will be even higher.
“Our previous projections seem to be holding. We will almost certainly see 3,000 lives lost in 2017,” she said.
“The West continues to be hardest hit, with 978 illicit drug overdose deaths in B.C., and 586 apparent opioid-related deaths in Alberta.”
Canadians aged 30 to 39 accounted for the highest proportion of opioid-related deaths, according to the report.
The CIHI report highlights changing hospitalization rates among men and women. This past year was the first time the rate of hospitalizations was higher among men than women. Men saw a 24 per cent hospitalization rate increase over the past three years, while women saw only a 10 per cent rise.
Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health, noted that when it comes to opioid-related deaths in Canada, 73 per cent involve males, though there are regional differences: in the Atlantic provinces, only 60 per cent of deaths are among men.
Michael Gaucher, CIHI’s director of Pharmaceuticals and Health Workforce Information Services, says while the numbers show a “dramatic” increase in opioid poisoning, it’s important to remember there are people behind these statistics.
“These are more than numbers; they are Canadians harmed -- sometimes tragically -- by opioids, impacting their lives as well as those of their families and communities,” he said Thursday in a news briefing.
He added, though, that not all overdoses end in death.
“While it is difficult to find a positive in the worsening trends in our data, it is important to remember that not every story ends tragically,” he said. “Through treatment and support, many individuals have positive outcomes.”
Over the past year, more than half of hospitalizations for opioid poisonings came from accidental use, while almost one-third were a result of purposely self-inflicted harm.
Over the past 10 years, older adults and seniors saw the highest rates of hospitalization, but youth aged 15-24 and young adults 25-44 had the fastest-growing rate of hospitalization.
Amy Graves' brother was one of the young people hospitalized from an opioid overdose. She says he passed away at age 21 after being offered a painkiller at a party.
"There were no warning signs of what was to come," she said. "He attended a party, was offered the painkiller hydromorphone. He went to sleep and never woke up."
The hospitalization analysis includes data from 2007-2017 from each province and territory, although the data from Quebec and Nunavut went back only to 2015.
Alberta and Ontario submitted emergency department visits for the study. They reported that opioid poisonings where in the past year resulted in an average of 11 and 13 daily emergency visits, respectively.
In Alberta, the number of emergency department visits for heroin and synthetic opioids increased 1,000 per cent in the past five years. The majority of this spike came in the past three years.
The report states that rates of emergency department visits in Alberta also tripled among men and increased by almost 80 per cent in women.
The report highlights that the total number of days of care for significant opioid poisoning hospitalizations has increased, but the average total length of stay has dropped in every age group.
But the research doesn’t show the whole picture. The data only include opioid poisonings where the individual was sent to hospital and does not take into account those who were treated elsewhere.
“These figures represent an underestimate of the extent of opioid poisonings in Canada; the magnitude of this underestimation is unknown,” the report states.
On Thursday, new federal Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor announced an additional $7.5 million in funding aimed at fighting the opioid crisis as she toured an Ottawa substance abuse treatment centre.
"We recognize this is a tragic situation that's happening from coast to coast to coast," she said. "I would certainly describe it as a national public health crisis."
With a report from CTV’s Vanessa Lee in Montreal and files from The Canadian Press