Joint Statement from the Co-Chairs of the Special Advisory Committee on the Epidemic of Opioid Overdoses – Latest Modelling Projections on Opioid Related Deaths and National Data on the Overdose Crisis


December 15, 2021 | Ottawa, ON | Public Health Agency of Canada

Today, the co-chairs of the federal, provincial and territorial Special Advisory Committee on the Epidemic of Opioid Overdoses—Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada's Chief Public Health Officer and Dr. Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick's Chief Medical Officer of Health—issued the following statement on the release of the latest surveillance data on opioid- and stimulant-related harms in Canada covering the period from January 2016 to June 2021 and modelling projections on opioid-related deaths through to June 2022.

For many years now, Canada has been experiencing an overdose crisis that has continued to worsen during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. The latest data show that the number of deaths and hospitalizations related to opioids remained high through the first half of 2021 – on average 19 people died and 16 were hospitalized every day. More than half of opioid-related deaths also involved use of a stimulant (e.g., cocaine, methamphetamine), underscoring the polysubstance nature of the overdose crisis.

The latest updated modelling projections from the Public Health Agency of Canada suggest that opioid-related deaths in Canada may remain high, and could even increase, in the next six months. They show that between 1,200 and 2,000 people could lose their lives per quarter through June 2022. Across all of the modelling scenarios, the projections underscore the critical importance of further action to address the overdose crisis to prevent further deaths and other harms.

We know that public health interventions, such as naloxone access and training, supervised consumption sites and safer supply programs can help to prevent overdose deaths. On behalf of our provincial and territorial colleagues, we are stressing the importance of continued collective efforts to prevent substance-related harms and help people who use drugs get needed supports.

While harm reduction interventions are essential, we must not lose sight of the importance of the broader conditions that impact substance use. Efforts to ensure adequate and affordable housing for all, facilitate social connection in communities, support positive child and youth development, and reduce stigma and discrimination can help prevent substance-related harms.

While the opioid overdose crisis has affected communities across the country and people from all walks of life, it is also especially important to support those who are the most affected, such as communities in Western Canada and Ontario, men, and Canadians aged 20 to 49.

As with other areas of health, it is imperative that jurisdictions work together to improve data sharing and comparability, in order to provide decision-makers across the country with the evidence they need to inform policies and programs.  We also need to expand our data and evidence base on the broader factors that contribute to substance-related harms in various Canadian population groups.

With this release, PHAC is also publishing its first brief report on Neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) in Canada. NAS is a set of symptoms experienced when a newborn is exposed to certain substances in the womb before birth. This brief report is the first step in better understanding how many children in Canada are born with this syndrome, and how this has changed over time.

We encourage all decision makers, health care professionals, service providers, and families and friends who are supporting loved ones who use drugs to learn more about the latest evidence and about how they can make a difference. Concrete actions each of us can take include learning about the signs of an overdose, carrying naloxone, and recognizing and challenging stigmatizing language and attitudes related to substance use.

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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