Joint Statement from the Co-Chairs of the Special Advisory Committee on the Epidemic of Opioid Overdoses – Latest National Opioid-Related Harms Data 


September 30, 2020 | Ottawa, ON | Public Health Agency of Canada

Ottawa, ON - Today, the co-chairs of the federal, provincial and territorial Special Advisory Committee on the Epidemic of Opioid Overdoses - Dr. Theresa Tam, Chief Public Health Officer of Canada and Dr. Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick's Chief Medical Officer of Health - issued the following statement on the release of new data on opioid-related harms in Canada, from January 1, 2016 to March 31, 2020.

The opioid overdose crisis continues to have a devastating impact on the lives of many Canadians, their families and communities. New national data released today show that between January 1, 2016 and March 31, 2020, 16,364 people died of an apparent opioid-related overdose in Canada, with 1,018 deaths and 1,067 opioid-related poisoning hospitalizations occurring in the first three months of 2020.

Sadly, since March 2020, several provinces and territories have reported the highest numbers of opioid-related harms, including deaths, since they began monitoring the crisis. This could be attributed to a growing unpredictable and toxic street drug supply, limited access to services available for people who use substances, and feelings of isolation and anxiety that may be a result of COVID-19 and the public health measures implemented to reduce the impact of the pandemic in Canada. As a consequence, more people are using drugs alone, putting them at increased risk of overdose and death.

We must continue to build broad understanding that substance use disorder is not a choice, but a treatable medical condition that requires a broad range of care and treatment options. Reducing the stigma associated with substance use, and providing people with services and supports that best meet their needs, and reduce harm is more important now than ever. This includes collaboration across sectors to address the underlying drivers of this crisis - such as mental illness, socioeconomic factors (e.g., housing, employment), social inclusion and access to health services - that put Canadians at increased risk.

Safer drug supply initiatives are one of the tools available to help prevent overdoses and are a critical part of a comprehensive approach to the opioid overdose crisis. These life-saving programs provide prescription medications as an alternative to the toxic illegal drug supply for people struggling with substance use disorders. They are also a lifeline, connecting patients with important health and social services, including treatment and mental health supports, which may be more difficult to access during COVID-19.

COVID-19 has been part of our daily reality for more than six months now, with many more months ahead of us. We recognize its tragic impact on people who use substances, their families, and communities. We must all come together to increase health and social supports, including harm reduction measures, treatment and prevention, and provide compassionate care.

Canadians can be assured that responding to the overdose crisis remains a top priority for Chief Medical Officers of Health and senior public health officials in governments throughout Canada.

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

Dr. Jennifer Russell
Chief Medical Health Officer, New Brunswick
Co-chair, Special Advisory Committee on the Epidemic of Opioid Overdoses

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