Statement from the Co-Chairs of the Special Advisory Committee on the Epidemic of Opioid Overdoses Regarding Updated Data on Canada’s Opioid Crisis


September 18, 2018 - Ottawa, ON - Public Health Agency of Canada

We continue to see an unprecedented number of opioid-related overdoses in Canada. The loss of life is tremendous and this national public health crisis continues to devastate the health and lives of many Canadians, their families and their communities.

Today, on behalf of the federal, provincial and territorial Special Advisory Committee on the Epidemic of Opioid Overdoses, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) is releasing data on apparent opioid-related deaths in Canada for the first quarter of 2018, and updated data for 2017 and 2016. PHAC is also releasing data on suspected overdoses reported by emergency medical services. In addition, PHAC is releasing highlights from a national epidemiological study, which draws on insights from coroners and medical examiners; these findings provide important contextual information on the crisis.

Between January and March 2018, there were at least 1,036 apparent opioid-related deaths in Canada, of which 94% were unintentional or accidental. Tragically, that now means that more than 8,000 Canadians lost their lives between January 2016 and March 2018 to an apparent opioid-related overdose.

The latest data suggest that the crisis is not abating.

We want to emphasize that the current crisis does not discriminate. It impacts people from all walks of life, all age groups and all socioeconomic backgrounds. However, it is clear that certain populations and regions are affected more than others.

The greatest impact continues to be in Western Canada, particularly in British Columbia and Alberta. However, we are seeing increases in apparent opioid-related deaths and harms in other areas of the country as well.

The epidemiological study released today highlights the change in recent years of the profile of the people who are dying. Historically, overdose-related deaths tended to be concentrated among people who had consumed drugs for a prolonged period. The current crisis reveals a wider spectrum—from persons who pass away the first time they take drugs, to persons living with chronic pain, to persons more experienced with substance use.

In order to address the opioid crisis, we need to explore the deeper social and structural determinants of health, such as risk factors and other causes that can lead to problematic substance use. We will continue to examine all available evidence to better understand the evolving trends of this crisis and to adjust our response efforts.

Most importantly, we must remember that evidence and data released today represent the stories of lives and loved ones who were lost and those who may be struggling with problematic substance use. We remain committed to working with all levels of government, stakeholders and people with lived and living experience as we work together to respond to the opioid crisis and save lives.

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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