Overview of national data on opioid-related harms and deaths
Last updated: December 12, 2018
Canada continues to experience a serious opioid crisis. Across the country, it is having devastating effects on the health and lives of many Canadians, their families and their communities. Accurate information about the crisis is needed to:
- provide a national picture of the public health impact of opioids in Canada
- help guide efforts to reduce opioid-related harms and deaths
The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) works closely with the provinces and territories to collect and share data on opioid-related harms. Detailed technical reports are published every quarter on apparent opioid-related deaths as well suspected opioid-related overdoses reported by emergency medical services (EMS).
PHAC also conducts additional studies to provide important contextual information on the crisis.
- Highlights from phase one of the national study on opioid and other drug-related overdose deaths: insights from coroners and medical examiners
- Measuring the impact of the opioid overdose epidemic on life expectancy at birth in Canada
Information on hospitalizations and emergency department visits due to opioid poisoning are collected and reported by the Canadian Institute for Health Information.
What do national data tell us about the state of the opioid crisis?
Statistics on opioid-related harms and deaths show that the opioid crisis is affecting individuals from all walks of life and all across Canada. However, some populations experience more harms and greater burden.
Tragically, more than 9,000 people lost their lives in Canada between January 2016 and June 2018 related to opioids.
The opioid epidemic has affected every part of the country; however, certain regions have been impacted more than others (see Figure 1).
Based on available data, there were 2,066 apparent opioid-related deaths in Canada between January and June 2018; 94% were accidental.
- Most accidental apparent opioid-related deaths occurred among males (76%); however this varied by province or territory.
- Age group patterns also vary by region; however, the vast majority of deaths were among young and middle aged adults (see Figure 2 for age group breakdown).
The data also indicate that fentanyl and other fentanyl-related substances continue to be a major driver of this crisis. From January to June 2018, 72% of accidental apparent opioid-related deaths involved fentanyl or fentanyl analogues.
Figure 1. Number and rate (per 100,000 population) of apparent opioid-related deaths by province or territory.
- 3005 apparent opioid-related deaths
- death rate of 8,3 per 100,000 population
|Province or territory||Number of deaths in 2016||Rate per 100,000 population|
|British ColumbiaFigure 1 2016 Footnote 1||1008||21,2|
|SaskatchewanFigure 1 2016 Footnote 2||83||7,2|
|QuebecFigure 1 2016 Footnote 2||245||2,9|
|Prince Edward IslandFigure 1 2016 Footnote 2||5||3,3|
|Newfoundland and LabradorFigure 1 2016 Footnote 2||18||3,4|
|YukonFigure 1 2016 Footnote 2||7||18,4|
- 3998 apparent opioid-related deaths
- death rate of 10,9 per 100,000 population
|Province or territory||Number of deaths in 2017||Rate per 100,000 population|
|British ColumbiaFigure 1 2017 Footnote 1||1482||30,8|
|SaskatchewanFigure 1 2017 Footnote 2||75||6,4|
|QuebecFigure 1 2017 Footnote 3||181||4,3|
|Prince Edward IslandFigure 1 2017 Footnote 2||4||2,6|
|Newfoundland and LabradorFigure 1 2017 Footnote 2||33||6,2|
|YukonFigure 1 2017 Footnote 2||7||18,2|
2018 (Jan to Jun)
From January to June 2018
- there were 2,000 apparent opioid-related deaths
- death rate of 11,2 per 100,000 population
|Province or territory||Number of deaths||Rate per 100,000 populationFigure 1 2018 Footnote 4|
|British ColumbiaFigure 1 2018 Footnote 1||754||30,2|
|SaskatchewanFigure 1 2018 Footnote 2||33||5,7|
|QuebecFigure 1 2018 Footnote 3||195||4,6|
|Prince Edward IslandFigure 1 2018 Footnote 2||0||0,0|
|Newfoundland and LabradorFigure 1 2018 Footnote 2||Suppressed||Suppressed|
|YukonFigure 1 2018 Footnote 2||0||0,0|
N/A Data were not available at the time of this publication.
Figure 2. Percent of accidental apparent opioid-related deaths in Canada by age group, January to June 2018.Figure 2 Footnote 1
|19 years and under||1%|
|20 to 29 years||20%|
|30 to 39 years||27%|
|40 to 49 years||21%|
|50 to 59 years||22%|
|60 years and over||8%|
- Figure 2 Footnote 1
Age group data were unavailable for two individuals. For Quebec, data for individuals 19 and under and 70 and over were suppressed due to low numbers of cases. Data from Quebec and British Columbia include deaths related to all illicit drugs including, but not limited to, opioids.
Rates of harm due to opioid poisoning continue to rise across Canada — hospitalizations increased by 27% over the past five years.
Between 2016 and 2017,
- an average of 17 people were hospitalized for opioid poisonings in Canada each day in 2017– an increase from 16 per day in 2016
- opioid poisonings affect small and suburban communities across Canada as well as large urban centres. In 2017, opioid poisoning hospitalization rates in smaller communitiesFootnote * were 2.5 times higher than rates in Canada’s largest cities
- the fastest-growing rates of hospitalizations and emergency department visits due to opioid poisoning were seen among males age 25 to 44
- the rate of emergency department visits for opioid poisonings increased by 73% in Ontario and 23% in Alberta
- Footnote *
Communities with populations between 50,000 and 99,999
Emergency medical services (EMS) including paramedic services data provide an additional information source on suspected opioid-overdoses, and help describe harms among persons who may not present to hospitals. Multiple provinces and territories reported EMS data.
Data from January to June 2018 reveal that the majority of suspected overdoses (71%) were among men and were most common among individuals between the ages of 20 and 29 years (32%) and those 30 to 39 years (30%).View the full report (GC InfoBase)
What can you do?
- Know the signs of an opioid overdose, and what to do in an overdose situation.
- Know what naloxone is and where you can get it.
- Problematic substance use can have serious health risks. It can also damage families and relationships. Learn more about the risks of opioids and what resources are available in your province.
- Stigma around substance use can prevent people from getting the help they need. You can help by:
- listening with compassion and without judgement, so a person who uses drugs feels heard and understood
- speaking up when someone is being treated disrespectfully because of their substance use
- being kind with the words you use. Words matter. Use people first language.
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