Government of Canada announces $20 million to help communities respond to increasing opioid-related overdoses

News release

Projects will provide training and awareness on opioid overdose response to 2.4 million Canadians and enable the distribution of 58,000 naloxone kits

March 29, 2021 | Ottawa, Ontario | Health Canada

In many areas across Canada, the COVID-19 pandemic has tragically worsened the ongoing health crisis of opioid-related harms and deaths. People who use drugs continue to face barriers and risks related to the toxicity of the illegal drug supply and reduced access to health and social services, including life-saving harm reduction and treatment.

Today, the Honourable Patty Hajdu, Minister of Health, announced $20 million in funding for the distribution of naloxone kits and opioid overdose response training to support communities that have been particularly affected by the opioid overdose crisis and are experiencing challenges in improving health outcomes of their residents. These include individuals living in rural and remote areas, Indigenous peoples, Northern residents, people experiencing homelessness, youth in communities at increased risk of opioid-related harms, and working-aged men. 

The funded projects will be led by the Advanced Coronary Treatment (ACT) Foundation of Canada, the Canadian Red Cross and St. John Ambulance. These organizations play a key role in building awareness of opioids and substance use, including the signs of an overdose and the steps to take to help save a life. Additionally, the projects will provide education and training on how to administer naloxone and will increase access and distribution of naloxone kits in communities that need them the most. These new initiatives will supplement existing provincial and territorial take-home naloxone efforts.

The Government of Canada continues to collaborate with all levels of government, partners, stakeholders, people with lived and living experience of substance use, and organizations in communities across the country in its public health responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and overdose crisis.


“The opioid overdose crisis has worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic. Tragically, we are losing too many of our loved ones to overdose. We must redouble our efforts to keep our friends and families safe. Harm reduction and prevention measures, like increased access to naloxone and opioid overdose response training, save lives. I thank these organizations for their important work, which is saving lives across the country.”

The Honourable Patty Hajdu
Minister of Health

“To date, the ACT Foundation has trained 4.8 million high schools students in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). We are a pioneer in establishing free lifesaving training in high schools across Canada. Adding the opioid overdose response training to the CPR program will enable us to see hundreds of thousands of students being empowered by their teachers every year with lifesaving skills and taking these skills to their communities.”

Sandra Clarke
Executive Director, ACT Foundation of Canada

“In our every-day work to help vulnerable people, we have seen first-hand how the opioid crisis is devastating Canadian families and communities. We are pleased and eager to bring the strength of the Red Cross to an effort we see as vital to addressing a very complex health and social issue.”

Conrad Sauvé
President and CEO, Canadian Red Cross

“The opioid overdose crisis continues to be a significant public health issue in Canada. In response, through funding provided by SUAP, St. John Ambulance is carrying out two programs that will build a support network across the country for those being impacted by the crisis, reduce the stigma associated with opioids, and save the lives of Canadians. With assistance from Health Canada, St. John Ambulance will distribute over 40,000 naloxone kits to the tens of thousands of Canadians we will train on how to recognize an opioid poisoning, react decisively to reverse that poisoning, and save the life of that person.”

Shawn McLaren
Chief Learning Officer, St. John Ambulance

Quick facts

  • Naloxone is a life-saving medication proven to temporarily reverse an opioid-related overdose. Naloxone is safe for all ages and only works if opioids are present in someone’s system.

  • With an average of 12 deaths and 14 hospitalizations every day between January 2016 and September 2020, the opioid overdose crisis remains one of the most serious public health crises in Canada’s recent history.

  • The latest national data indicate that 19,355 people in Canada lost their lives due to opioid-related overdoses between January 2016 and September 2020. Tragically, the 1,705 deaths that occurred between July and September 2020 represent the highest national quarterly count of deaths reported by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) since 2016.

  • As part of the Fall Economic Statement 2020, the Government of Canada committed to help Canadians struggling with problematic substance use by providing an additional $66 million over two years. This new funding will support community-based organizations responding to substance use issues, including to help them provide frontline services during COVID-19.

  • Funding for these projects is provided through Health Canada’s Substance Use and Addictions Program (SUAP).

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Cole Davidson
Office of the Honourable Patty Hajdu
Minister of Health

Media Relations
Health Canada

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