Wider impacts of COVID-19: A look at how substance-related harms across Canada have changed during the pandemic

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Organization: Public Health Agency of Canada

Date published: 2021-05-05

ISBN: 978-0-660-38480-1
Cat.: HP35-144/2021E-PDF
Pub.: 210006

There is an increasing concern about a range of wider impacts of the pandemic response. Among these is the impact on problematic substance use.

Feelings of isolation, stress and anxiety, lack of a regular schedule, boredom and limited available or accessible services for people who use substances may impact harms.

Deaths, hospitalizations and visits to the emergency department are examples of harms.


Substance-related deaths

Between March and September 2020, the total number of all (alcohol, cannabis, opioids, stimulants) substance-related deaths increased in the emergency departments (by 12%) and hospitals (by 13%) compared to the same period in 2019.

Substance-related hospitalizations

Between March and September 2020, there were 80,954 hospitalizations, representing a 5% increase compared to the same period in 2019.

  % change (overall) % change (males) % change (females)
Alcohol +5% +6% +2%
Cannabis +5% +6% +4%
Opioids +7% +17% -5%
Stimulants +8% +9% +6%

Substance-related emergency department visits

Between March and September 2020, there were 176,902 emergency department visits, representing a 5% decrease compared to the same period in 2019.

This decrease is solely driven by alcohol-related visits. Cannabis-,opioid-,and stimulant-related ED visits have increased.

  % change (overall) % change (males) % change (females)
Alcohol -11% -9% -13%
Cannabis +8% +5% +14%
Opioids +8% +12% 0%
Stimulants +5% +5% +5%

Who was affected?


How can you reduce substance-related harms


The Public Health Agency of Canada released this infographic in collaboration with the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI). PHAC would like to acknowledge CIHI for providing the data and analysis for this infographic, and for their assistance with reviewing the content. For additional information, please consult the CIHI’s full report and data tables. We would also like to acknowledge the Office of Drug Research and Surveillance, Controlled Substances Directorate, Controlled Substances and Cannabis Branch, Health Canada for reviewing the content of the infographic.

Notes and limitations


Footnote *

Represents data from March to September

Return to footnote * referrer

Footnote 1

Special Advisory Committee on the Epidemic of Opioid Overdoses. Opioids and Stimulant-related Harms in Canada. Ottawa: Public Health Agency of Canada; March 2021. https://health-infobase.canada.ca/substance-related-harms/opioids-stimulants

Return to footnote 1 referrer

Footnote 2

Data for the lowest income quintile neighbourhoods

Return to footnote 2 referrer

Production of this document has been made possible with the collaboration from the Public Health Agency of Canada and CIHI.

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