Federal Actions on Opioids to Date

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(As of September 2020)

This overview identifies the actions taken by the Government of Canada since early 2016 to address the opioid crisis. It also provides a national picture of the public health impact of opioids in Canada.

Recent Highlights

  • The Government of Canada has taken action to support people who use drugs during COVID-19
  • The Minister of Health has sent a letter to Provincial and Territorial Ministers of Health and regulatory colleges to encourage action at all levels to better provide care to people who use drugs with a full spectrum of options for receiving care from practitioners, including safer supply prescribing
  • The funding of 10 new projects to provide people with opioid use disorder with pharmaceutical-grade medication from a licensed prescriber as an alternative to the toxic illegal supply
  • An investment of $500 million towards health care to respond to the pandemic, which will include support for Canadians experiencing challenges with substance use, mental health, or homelessness
  • Health Canada is consulting Canadians (from August 15, 2020 to October 14, 2020) on a proposal to develop to inform proposed new regulations for supervised consumption sites and services

Increased access to treatment

Access to harm reduction

  • Approved 40 supervised consumption sites which have been visited more than 2.2million times, reversed nearly 17,600 overdoses without a single death at a site, and made over 85,800 referrals to health and social services
  • Supported the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act, which provides some legal protection for individuals who seek emergency help during an overdose
  • Continued facilitation of access to naloxone, including remote communities and isolated First Nations and Inuit communities
  • Announced finalists of the Drug Checking Technology Challenge

Awareness and prevention

Tainted drug supply

  • Working with domestic and international partners to reduce the illegal opioid supply
  • Supporting education and training for law enforcement
  • Equipped border agents with tools to intercept fentanyl and other dangerous substances at the border
  • Seized more than 2kg of fentanyl at the border in 2019-2020
  • Opioids were identified 21,725 times in exhibits Footnote 1 submitted by law enforcement and public health officials in 2019. From January 1st – March 31st 2020, opioids were identified 4,304 times in exhibits submitted by law enforcement and public health officials.


Learn more at Canada.ca/Opioids

Opioid-Related Harms in CanadaFootnote 2

From January 2016 to March 2020 there have been:

  • 16,364 Apparent opioid-related deaths, or nearly 11 per day
  • 20,523 Opioid-related poisoning hospitalizations, or 13 per day

While this national update includes data until March 2020, reports from several jurisdictions across Canada indicate an alarming increase in opioid-related harms in recent months likely due to the impact of COVID-19 public measures.

Crude rate of opioid-related harms per 100,000 population
Harm 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 (Jan to Mar)
Apparent opioid-related deaths 8.4 11.4 11.8 10.1 10.7
Opioid-related poisoning hospitalizations 16.8 18.4 17.6 15.5 14.7

According to available apparent opioid-related death data between January and March 2020:

  • 1,018 apparent opioid-related deaths occurred of which 96% were accidental;

Among accidental apparent opioid-related deaths:

  • 3 in 4 were male;
  • 69% were among young and middle aged adults (20 to 49 years);
  • 29% were among older adults (50 years or greater);
  • 77% involved fentanyl or fentanyl analogues;
  • 81% involved non-pharmaceutical opioidsFootnote 3;
  • 72% involved one or more types of non-opioid substances;

According to available opioid-related poisoning hospitalization data between January and March 2020:

  • 1,067 opioid-related poisoning hospitalizations occurred of which 64% were accidental;

Among accidental opioid-related poisoning hospitalizations:

  • 3 in 5 were male;
  • 46% were among young and middle aged adults (20 to 49 years);
  • 51% were among older adults (50 years or greater);
  • 25% involved fentanyl or fentanyl analogues;
  • 27% involved one or more types of non-opioid substances;

According to available Emergency Medical Services (EMS) data between January and March 2020:

  • More than 4,560 EMS responses for suspected opioid overdoses occurred;

Based on available data from 9 provinces and territories;

  • 3 in 4 were male;
  • 71% were among young and middle aged adults (20 to 49 years);
  • 23% were among older adults (50 years or greater);


Footnote 1

Note: an exhibit may contain more than one opioid

Return to footnote 1 referrer

Footnote 2

Apparent opioid-related death data from BC and QC (2019 and 2020) includes deaths related to all illicit drugs including, but not limited to, opioids. Data on opioid-related poisoning hospitalizations were available from the Discharge Abstract Database (DAD), a national administrative database from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI); data from Quebec were not available at time of analysis. There is currently no national case definition for suspected opioid-related overdoses attended by Emergency Medical Services; each region reports EMS data based on their respective provincial/territorial case definition. New or revised data reported will be reflected in future updates.

Return to footnote 2 referrer

Footnote 3

Among deaths with completed investigations from four provinces

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