Federal actions on opioids to date

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(June 2021)

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Recent highlights

  • Budget 2021 proposes new funding:
    • $116 million for the Substance Use and Addictions Program to support a range of innovative approaches to harm reduction, treatment, and prevention at the community level
    • $62 million for Wellness Together Canada Portal
    • $45 million to help develop national standards for mental health and substance use with provinces and territories, health organizations, and stakeholders
    • $40.4 million to expand access to Drug Treatment Courts by providing eligible participants with access to a comprehensive program that includes substance use treatment and social services support
    • $597.6 million for a distinctions-based mental health and wellness strategies with First Nations, Inuit, and the Métis to help stabilize community-based supports and capacity
    • To address homelessness and housing for at risk populations, including people who use substances:
      • $567 million for Reaching Home: Canada's Homelessness Strategy which includes Housing First programs, providing wrap around supports, harm reduction programs and bolstering Assertive Community Treatment teams
      • $1.5 billion for the Rapid Housing Initiative to address urgent housing needs of vulnerable Canadians
      • $45 million aimed at reducing veteran homelessness, which includes rent supplements, and wrap-around services for homeless veterans such as counselling, addiction treatment, and help finding a job
  • $66 million in funding over 2 years through the 2020 Fall Economic Statement for 32 new projects related to naloxone, stigma, safer supply and more for community-based organizations responding to substance use issues, including to help them provide frontline services in a COVID-19 context
  • The Canadian Pain Task Force released its third report - An Action Plan for Pain in Canada, which includes recommendations to ensure people with pain are recognized and supported, and that pain is understood, prevented, and effectively treated
  • Actions to support people who use drugs, including during COVID-19:
    • Extending a temporary exemption to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act with flexible treatment options to help patients follow public health measures, including allowing pharmacists to prescribe and physicians to verbally prescribe controlled substances and allowing individuals to deliver prescribed medication to patients
    • Adding two oral tablet formulations of diacetylmorphine to the List of Drugs for an Urgent Public Health Need to allow their importation for use

Project Funding


  • Continued collaboration with provinces and territories to support ongoing quarterly reporting of national data on opioid- and stimulant-related deaths and harms, such as hospitalizations and Emergency Medical Services responses
  • Updated modelling projections during COVID-19 show that drug overdose deaths may continue to increase through much of 2021
  • A report on hospitalizations for substance-related overdoses, including those due to opioids and stimulants, among people experiencing homelessness
  • Published a toolkit with resources for stakeholders to respond to a need for information on medications for people at risk of overdose during the pandemic
  • Developed a series of national guidance documents related to substance use in the context of COVID-19.

Access to treatment

Access to harm reduction

  • Provided exemptions for 36 supervised consumption sites (currently operating), which have:
    • been visited more than 2.6 million times
    • reversed nearly 22,000 overdoses without a single death
    • made over 112,000 referrals to health and social services
  • Consulted Canadians on a proposal to develop new regulations for supervised consumption sites and services
  • Supported the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act, which provides some legal protection for people who seek emergency help during an overdose
  • Continued to improve access to naloxone, including to remote communities and isolated First Nations and Inuit communities and to the homeless-serving sector
  • Announced finalists of the Drug Checking Technology Challenge

Awareness and prevention

Enforcement and tainted drug supply

  • Introduced Bill-C-22 which would repeal mandatory minimum penalties for all drug offences and require police and prosecutors to consider using diversion, including to treatment programs instead of charges, for simple possession of an illegal drug
  • Working with domestic and international partners to reduce the illegal opioid supply by:
    • Equipping border agents with tools to intercept fentanyl and other toxic substances at the border
      • Seized more than 17.7 kg of fentanyl at the border between April 2018 and April 2021
      • Implementing 81 designated safe examination areas by early 2023 at high risk ports of entry which allow officers to safely conduct examinations of items suspected to contain opioids and fentanyl
      • Deployment of 6 new detector dog teams at mail processing centres trained to detect fentanyl in addition to other drugs
      • Constructed regional designated safe sampling areas in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver
    • Working with private sector partners to address money laundering of the proceeds of fentanyl trafficking
  • Identified opioids 68,834 times from 2018 to March 2021 in exhibits submitted to the Drug Analysis Service (DAS) by law enforcement and public health officials
    • Exhibits may contain more than one opioid and COVID has impacted the activities of the DAS including the identification of opioids in exhibits

Learn more at Canada.ca/Opioids

Opioid-related harms in Canada

From January 2016 to December 2020 there have been:

  • 21,174 apparent opioid-related deaths
  • 24,671 hospitalizations for opioid-related overdoses

Recent data from several jurisdictions across Canada show a worrying increase in opioid-related harms and deaths since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak

  • 1,766 apparent opioid-related deaths from October to December 2020 is the highest ever recorded in a single quarter since 2016.
  • In the nine months following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic (April to December 2020), there was a 89% increase in apparent opioid-related deaths (5,148), a 23% increase in hospitalizations for opioid-related overdoses (4,123) and an 61% increase in Emergency Medical Services (EMS) responses to suspected opioid-related overdoses (24,286) compared to the same period in 2019 (2,722 deaths, 3,348 hospitalizations, and 15,133 EMS responses).
Crude rate of opioid-related harms per 100,000 population
Harm 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
Apparent opioid-related deaths 7.8 10.7 11.8 10.2 17.0
Hospitalizations for opioid-related overdoses 16.8 18.4 17.6 15.5 17.7


  • Between January and December 2020, there were 6,214 apparent opioid-related deaths, or nearly 17 deaths per day, of which 96% were accidental
  • Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, 5,148 apparent opioid-related deaths occurred (April to December 2020), representing an 89% increase compared to the same period in 2019 (2,722 deaths).

Among accidental apparent opioid-related deaths:

  • 3 in 4 were male
  • 68% were among young and middle aged adults (20 to 49 years)
  • 30% were among older adults (50 years or greater)
  • 82% involved fentanyl and 10% involved fentanyl analogues
  • 84% involved non-pharmaceutical opioids (among deaths with completed investigations from 7 provinces)
  • based on information from 6 provinces and territories, 52% of accidental opioid-related deaths between January and December 2020 also involved a stimulant, reflecting the polysubstance nature of this crisis


  • Between January and December 2020, there were 5,215 hospitalizations for opioid-related overdoses or nearly 14 hospitalizations per day, of which 68% were accidental
  • Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, 4,123 hospitalizations for opioid-related overdoses occurred (April to December 2020), representing a 23% increase from the same period in 2019 (3,348 hospitalizations).

Among accidental hospitalizations for opioid-related overdoses:

  • 2 in 3 were male
  • 53% were among young and middle aged adults (20 to 49 years)
  • 43% were among older adults (50 years or greater)
  • 32% involved fentanyl or fentanyl analogues
  • 20% involved one or more stimulants

Emergency Medical Services

According to available Emergency Medical Services (EMS) data from 9 provinces and territories:

  • Between January and December 2020, there were more than 28,800 EMS responses for suspected opioid-related overdoses, of which:
    • Nearly 3 in 4 were male
    • 77% were among young and middle aged adults (20 to 49 years)
    • 20% were among older adults (50 years or greater)
  • Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, 24,286 EMS responses for suspected opioid- related overdoses occurred (April to December 2020), representing a 61% increase from the same period in 2019 (15,133 EMS responses).

Notes on data

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