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


December 15, 2023 | 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. Yves Léger, New Brunswick's Acting Chief Medical Officer of Health – issued the following statement on the release of the latest monitoring data on opioid- and stimulant-related harms in Canada. This release provides an update on data collected from January to June 2023 and builds on historical data that has been collected every quarter since 2016.

These latest data show that in Canada between January and June 2023, there were 3,970 opioid-related deaths and 39,435 hospitalizations for opioid-related poisonings. These are the highest numbers reported in the first half of a year since surveillance began in 2016. In addition, updated simulation modelling suggests the number of opioid-related deaths could remain high or increase over the next six months.

Sadly, the extent of opioid- and stimulant-related harms continues to increase and it is important to always remember that these are more than just numbers – each death represents a loss that is felt in communities and families across Canada.

While data is important to understanding the scope of the opioid overdose crisis, evidence-based actions, across the full continuum of care, including prevention, harm reduction treatment, and recovery are critical to help mitigate future deaths and substance-related harms.

A comprehensive and collaborative approach is required to reduce harms and save lives

This public health crisis requires ongoing investment, coordination and an approach that addresses the factors that place some people at greater risk of substance-related harms, such as experiences of trauma, economic insecurity, homelessness, social isolation and stigma.

The recent launch of the renewed Canadian Drugs and Substances Strategy (CDSS) helps to strengthen a holistic and collaborative public health and public safety approach to this crisis.

The CDSS prioritizes children and youth by providing tools and supports to help prevent, delay and lower their rates of substance use. The new Youth Substance Use Prevention Program, for example, is based on the Icelandic Prevention Model. This model has been shown to be effective in decreasing long-term substance use among youth and is based on the fundamental principle that prevention efforts should be focussed on building strong and healthy communities.

Ensuring youth have equitable and easy access to services and supports when they need them is also an important component of prevention. Integrated Youth Services (IYS) initiatives have taken root across the country as "one-stop shops" that provide effective, youth-focused and integrated services for mental health and substance-use alongside other youth supports such as, counselling, primary care, work and study supports, and housing. There are now approximately 75 hubs across Canada with over 55 more in development, and a pan-Canadian Indigenous IYS network is also in development.

As we continue to take both evidence based and innovative initiatives to address substance-related harms, research and data to determine their impact are critical. Through the renewed CDSS, independent evaluations of the implementation and impact of interventions will continue to be supported.

The data contained in this release underscore the seriousness of substance-related harms in Canada, and the urgent need to continue working together to address this ongoing public health crisis. We must work together. We must listen. We must learn from the voices and expertise of people with lived and living experience, to guide our response efforts and ensure we are meeting people where they are at.

All Canadians can have a positive impact by learning the signs of an overdose, carrying naloxone, and challenging stigmatizing language and attitudes related to substance use. There are many resources to turn to for help if you have questions about substance use, or are struggling. You can also find mental health resources at

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

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

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