Statement from the Co-Chairs of the Special Advisory Committee on the Epidemic of Opioid Overdoses on Updates to Opioid-Related Mortality Data


March 27, 2018           Ottawa, ON                Public Health Agency of Canada

Opioid-related overdoses have claimed the lives of thousands of Canadians and this crisis has been devastating for people who use drugs, their families, and communities throughout the country. Over the last year, the provinces, territories, and federal government have worked collaboratively to collect, analyze and share data on opioid-related mortality.

Today, on behalf of the federal, provincial and territorial Special Advisory Committee on the Epidemic of Opioid Overdoses, the Public Health Agency of Canada is releasing data that includes an update to the preliminary national data on apparent opioid-related deaths in 2016, the first half of 2017 and new data up to the third quarter of 2017 (July – September 2017).

Unfortunately, the data released today have confirmed our fear that that the crisis has worsened significantly since 2016, despite the efforts from all levels of government and partners to reverse the trend. Available data from the provinces and territories indicate that at least 2,923 people died from apparent opioid-related overdoses between January and September 2017. This is an increase of 45% when compared to the same period in 2016. From January to September 2017, we lost as many people to the opioids crisis as we did for the entire course of 2016. Based on the latest data available, we expect that Canada will see more than 4,000 opioid-related deaths in 2017.

The data also indicate that illegally produced fentanyl and other synthetic opioids remain a growing driver of this crisis. From January to September 2017, 72% of accidental apparent opioid-related deaths involved fentanyl or fentanyl analogues, compared to 55% in 2016. Overall, we also found that most accidental apparent opioid-related deaths occurred among males (76%), with the highest percentage among individuals between the ages of 30 and 39 (28%).

For the first time, today’s release also includes data that break down unintentional (accidental) deaths and suicides. This type of breakdown is critical to our understanding of the crisis and helps all levels of government improve the way we deliver our prevention, treatment and response policies and programs. Based on the available data, 92% of apparent opioid-related deaths from January to September 2017 were unintentional, compared to 88% in 2016.

We recognize that each death reported in today’s release represents a human life, and we are saddened by these losses. We recognize that all levels of government must do more to increase awareness, implement and evaluate innovative harm reduction approaches and increase access to effective treatment programs in order to turn the tide on this epidemic of opioid-related deaths.

The provinces, territories and federal government are committed to working together through the Special Advisory Committee on the Epidemic of Opioid Overdoses to advance efforts to reduce opioid-related deaths and harms.

Dr. Theresa Tam
Chief Public Health Officer of Canada
Co-chair Special Advisory Committee on the Epidemic of Opioid Overdoses

Dr. Robert Strang
Nova Scotia Chief Medical Officer of Health
Co-chair Special Advisory Committee on the Epidemic of Opioid Overdoses

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Public Health Agency of Canada

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