Study Finds Steep Rise in Opioid-Related Deaths in Ontario

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

Canada is confronting a national opioid crisis. The increasing number of overdoses and deaths caused by opioids is causing a national public health disaster. In fact, in Ontario the overall rate of opioid-related deaths nearly tripled from 2000 to 2015.

A new study by researchers at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto reviewed all deaths in Ontario in which prescribed or illegal opioids were found to be a contributing factor between 2000 to 2015. The study found that there were 7,719 opioid-related deaths during that time period.

In Ontario, researchers found that one out of every six deaths among young adults (aged 25 to 34) was related to opioids in 2015. Research also found that one of nine deaths among those aged 15 to 24 was related to opioids (nearly double that of 2010).

Lead author and scientist, Dr. Tara Gomes, reports that young people need more information about the dangers of illicit drug use and education on how to reach out for help. She also suggested that it is time to be more tolerant to providing access to naloxone (the overdose-reversing drug) in locations where young people can access it (i.e. high schools, universities and music festivals).

Regarding the opioid crisis in Ontario, Dr. Gomes stated:

It is striking to see that despite the efforts put into harm reduction, proper prescribing practices, and education around opioid use, the number of opioid-related deaths continues to rise. The other alarming fact is how this crisis is increasingly impacting our youth and young adults.

Dr. Gomes’ research revealed that a total of 29,410 years of potential life were lost prematurely due to opioid-related causes in 2015, which exceeds the years of life lost prematurely annually from pneumonia, HIV/AIDs and influenza.

Recently, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke in the city of Hamilton, a city which saw 70 opioid-related deaths between January and October in 2017, and declared that situations like theirs were a top priority for his government. The city of Hamilton’s opioid-death rate during 2017 was 78% higher than the provincial rate.

In addressing the opioid crisis, Prime Minister Trudeau stated:

We know that we have to address this. This is getting to be more and more of a problem. We have always put this at the top of our preoccupations as we deal with this public health crisis here in Hamilton and right across the country.

WHAT ARE OPIOIDS?

Opioids are drugs with pain relieving properties that are used primarily to treat pain. Opioids can be purchased at the pharmacy to treat minor aches and pains or prescribed by a doctor to relieve medium to severe pain.

Opioids can produce euphoria, or a high feeling, which leads them to be used improperly. The following are examples of opioids that can be prescribed medications:

  • Codeine;
  • Fentanyl;
  • Morphine;
  • Oxycodone;
  • Hydromorphone; and,
  • Medical heroin.

Dependency, substance use disorder and overdose are serious side effects and risks of using opioids. They have the potential for problematic use because they produce a “high” feeling.

Opioids should only be taken as prescribed, never be used by someone for whom it was not prescribed and never be taken with alcohol or other medication (except as prescribed).

Individuals prescribed with opioids are advised never to share their medication, and are cautioned to store their medication in a safe and secure place and out of reach from children and teenagers. Any unused opioid medication should be returned to a pharmacy for safe disposal to prevent the possibility of illegal use and protect the environment from contamination.

HOW IS THE GOVERNMENT RESPONDING TO THE OPIOID CRISIS?

The Canadian government has reserved $231.4 million to respond to the opioid crisis in Canada, with monies dedicated to strategies such as public health campaigns, data tracking and new equipment and tools to allow border agents to better detect dangerous opioids before they enter Canada.

The Ontario government guaranteed it will spend more than $222 million over three years to address the opioid issue. The money will be used in the following manner:

  • To support health care providers on appropriate pain management and opioid prescribing;
  • To increase addictions treatment in primary care;
  • To add more front line harm reduction outreach workers in communities across the province;
  • For specialized support for indigenous communities and developmentally appropriate care for youth.

Furthermore, Ontario is the first province to provide access to Narcan nasal spray in Ontario pharmacies, free of charge, as part of its Ontario Naloxone Program for Pharmacies. This nasal spray is the only needle-free formulation of naloxone for the emergency treatment of a known or suspected opioid overdose. It does not require assembly or any specialized medical training.

Ontario has also announced that more than 30 communities will receive new or enhanced Rapid Access Addiction Medicine (“RAAM”) clinics. There are currently seven community clinics of this kind, which allow patients to receive medical assisted therapy for their addiction and are then referred to healthcare professionals to begin recovery treatment. Kate Hardy, the manager of the RAAM pilot project in Ontario, stated:

Unlike traditional treatment programs there are no wait times, scheduled appointments, or complicated intake assessments. … RAAM clinics are outpatient to allow patients to continue with their work and family responsibilities, and the service providers are non-judgemental.

As both the federal and provincial governments continue in their efforts to tackle the opioid crisis in Canada, Affleck & Barrison LLP will continue to provide updates through this blog.

If you are facing a drug related charge or have any questions regarding your legal rights, contact Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947. We offer a free consultation and are available to help you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.