Canada has been hit hard by the opioid crisis with fentanyl increasing the number of overdose deaths.
The United States hasn’t been the only country affected by the opioid crisis. It continues to take lives all over the world. In Canada, recent reports have shown nearly 14,000 people died from opioid overdoses in the last four years and more than 17,000 have been hospitalized. In a report titled Opioid-related harms in Canada, released this month, Canada’s public health agency documented the impact.
“The opioid overdose crisis continues to devastate many Canadians, their families and their communities from coast to coast to coast,” Dr Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, and Dr Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer, said.
“It’s very disturbing to see these kind of numbers,” said Dr Anita Srivastava, a physician professor of medicine at the University of Toronto.
Fentanyl continues to be the common denominator in most overdose cases, which is often mixed with heroin to maximize its effects. The government warns the powerful drug is contributing “to a high rate of overdoses and deaths. Fake pills are being produced using unknown amounts of fentanyl.” And, since one cannot “see, taste or smell fentanyl” it is particularly dangerous and deadly.
Canada’s population is also one of the highest per capita consumers of prescription opioids in the world, but opioid use treatment is often limited to specialized clinics. Most centers don’t have the equipment necessary to adequately treat the large number of patients seeking help.
“If somebody shows up in the emergency room with an infection related to injecting opiates, more likely than not, they won’t get offered treatment for opiate addiction,” Srivastava said.
Reports show British Columbia’s rate of 22 deaths for every 100,000 residents is double the national average, and Alberta has the second-highest rate. Men total three-quarters of all opioid-related deaths.
Canada’s Liberal party committed to $100 million in funding to support the crisis. Some initiatives include ensuring there are more readily available resources for rural communities, distributing naloxone kits and wallet cards with information about the signs of overdose, and adding resources for hospitals. The government also instituted a program in which those suffering an overdose will be protected from minor drug possession charges through the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act. And, there are an increasing number of safe injection sites being put into place at which users can go to self-administer opioids under direct medical supervision.
“To have a significant and lasting impact, we need to continue working together on whole-of-society changes,” Canada’s chief public-health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, and Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab said in a joint statement. “This includes addressing the stigma that surrounds substance use, implementing further harm-reduction measures and reducing barriers to treatment. It also means continuing to work together to better understand and address the drivers of this crisis, such as mental illness, and social and economic factors that put Canadians at increased risk.”
“Addiction is a great equalizer. It doesn’t spare anybody, and it goes across all spectrums of people,” said Srivastava. “But there’s very much this feeling [among the public] that it’s not us that’s being affected; it’s somebody else.”