At least 2,458 Canadians died from opioid-related overdoses in 2016: PHAC
The agency said the data suggests Western Canada has been the hardest hit by the overdose crisis with an opioid-related death rate of 10 per 100,000 people for Yukon, Northwest Territories, British Columbia and Alberta.
The national opioid death rate was 8.8 per 100,000 population, according to Public Health Canada.
The agency said the figures could increase as more data becomes available and do not include the province of Quebec. It also noted there were several limitations to the data including how overdose deaths are tracked by provinces.
WATCH: Opioid crisis spread across Canada
For example, figures for Ontario are based on 2015 data as completed data for 2016 is not available. In the first six months of 2016, Ontario recorded a total of 412 opioid-related deaths. Meanwhile, British Columbia reports on unintentional deaths related to all illicit drugs, not just opioids.
Public Health Canada released the numbers on behalf of a federal, provincial and territorial advisory committee on the opioid overdose epidemic. Illicit fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, is blamed for the spike in overdose deaths.
Theresa Tam, interim chief public health officer with the Public Health Agency of Canada, said the country need to address the underlying causes of why people are turning to drugs.
“This is a national crisis we’re dealing with,” Tam said speaking at a conference on opioids in Halifax, :Even though the situation is worse on the west coast, in the west-end of the country, everybody needs to be prepared and showing the information over time and the trends is very, very important for continuing that level of preparedness and response.”
Global News has reported extensively on the overdose crisis including lack of real-time tracking of overdose deaths in Ontario, how fentanyl is sold online, and its impact on frontline workers in B.C.
Health and government officials across the country have been rushing to address the growing overdose “crisis” from drugs such as fentanyl that has swept across Canada.
WATCH: Alberta declares fentanyl problem a public health crisis (May 31)
Last month, Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins unveiled an interactive online tracking system that makes drug overdose data publicly available, including the number of deaths, hospitalizations and emergency department visits.
Natasha Touesnard, an outreach worker for Mainline Needle Exchange and Direction 180 in Halifax, said the current approach to dealing with overdoses isn’t working.
“Some call this the fentanyl crisis but the real crisis isn’t on any particular drug but our failed public policy to our drug use and misuse. We need to form proactive drug policy, not reactive,” Touesnard said during a conference on opioids in Halifax. “It’s going to take a comprehensive approach made up of all levels of government, health authorities, community based organizations and people who use drugs.”
British Columbia, which has been the hardest hit by the fentanyl crisis, has already seen 488 illicit drug overdose deaths in the province during the first four months of 2017, according to the latest data released by the B.C. Coroners Service.
“The near-record number of drug overdose deaths in the fentanyl crisis is a bloodbath in all corners of Vancouver with no end in sight,” Mayor Gregor Robertson said in a statement.
If the pace of overdose deaths in B.C. continues, it will surpass 1,400 in 2017, a significant increase from the roughly 935 deaths recorded in 2016.
*With files from Alexa MacLean
© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.