‘It’s bad’: Opioids killed more Ontarians in 2nd year of COVID pandemic than 1st

TORONTO – Opioids More people have been killed in Ontario in the second year of the pandemic than in the first, but the province saw a drop in the death toll this past March, newly released data shows.

About eight people a day die from opioids in the second year of the pandemic, preliminary data from the Ontario Sheriff’s Office shows. Between April 2021 and March 2022, 2,790 opioid-related deaths were recorded, a slight increase from 2,727 in the first year of the pandemic.

Those are all huge leaps from 2019, when opioids killed 1,559 Ontarians — about four a day.

Dr Dirk Huyer, Ontario’s principal investigator, said in an interview: “It’s going on and it’s bad and it’s gotten a lot worse during the pandemic.

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However, the data also shows that the death rate fell 10% in the first quarter of this year compared with the same time last year. The data is considered preliminary because it includes both confirmed and probable opioid-related deaths and is subject to change, Huyer said.

“Should we celebrate the fact that we dropped 10%?” Huyer said. “No. We still have a lot of dead people, but, yeah, we don’t keep going up, so that’s fine.”

The overall death toll was down 31% in March 2022 compared to March 2021. Ontario lifted most of its COVID-19 restrictions that month, though at this point Huyer said it was just that. simply a correlation, not necessarily the cause of the drop.

Overall, the opioid poisoning death rate in 2021 is 19.5 deaths per 100,000 people – more than double the rate of 9.1 deaths per 100,000 people in 2017.

The data suggested to Huyer that the jump in opioid deaths during the pandemic was due to more self-administering drugs as fewer services were available to their communities.

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“That community is now reopening so there is some support from a safety perspective, but also emotional support and overall, things are getting better overall,” Huyer said.

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He also said border closures could affect drug supply.

Northern Ontario remains the hardest hit in Ontario and the problem is only getting worse, with the region having a death rate more than double that of the province as a whole.

“Thunder Bay, Sudbury, Algoma, just increased significantly,” Huyer said.

Thunder Bay County Health Unit had an opioid death rate of 82.1 per 100,000 population in the first quarter, which is the highest rate in the province and more than four times the provincial rate.

Sudbury and County Public Health was the next highest with an opioid death rate of 57.9 per 100,000 while Algoma Public Health – in and around Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. – ranked third with a mortality rate of 52 per 100,000.

Men continue to die from opioids at a disproportionate rate, accounting for three-quarters of all deaths in Ontario. Men aged 25 to 44 accounted for 54% of deaths in the first quarter of 2022.

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Fentanyl remains the most common substance found in people who die from opioids, the data shows. It is implicated in 88% of deaths in 2021, up from 86% the previous year _ itself a huge jump from 53% of all opioid deaths in 2019.

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Tara Gomes, an epidemiologist at Unity Health in Toronto who studies opioid use, is cautious about the recent drop in deaths, saying the data is still preliminary.

“It’s hard to know for sure right now, but it’s better than the alternative, which is what we still see during the pandemic,” she said.

“But it’s important to remember that eight deaths a day compared to four deaths a day before the pandemic is just such a big change.”

Her work focuses on the disparities between the city and the countryside as well as the challenges in the north.

“I think many of the harm reduction services we have are really designed to work well in urban settings, but in larger areas or rural areas, planning and management It’s going to be a lot more difficult,” she said.

Gomes said the province and federal government need to relax regulations on proven opioid treatments like suboxone and methadone, significantly expanding harm reduction and safe spaces for drug use. , as well as a safe supply of drugs.

Her research has found that opioids are killing the homeless and the unemployed during the pandemic. Her research shows that it also affects construction workers a lot.

“We still haven’t solved the problem,” she said.

© 2022 Canadian Press

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