Opioid overdoses killed more than 1,000 Canadians in the first quarter of 2018

An anti-fentanyl advertisment is seen on a sidewalk in downtown Vancouver, Tuesday, April, 11, 2017.
An anti-fentanyl advertisment is seen on a sidewalk in downtown Vancouver, Tuesday, April, 11, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

More than 1,000 Canadians lost their lives to apparent opioid overdoses in the first three months of 2018, according to new data released Tuesday.

The Special Advisory Committee on the Epidemic of Opioid Overdoses released new figures Tuesday that showed that there were more than 8,000 opioid-related deaths between January 2016 and March 2018.

The number of opioid-related deaths from January to March 2018 rose 16 per cent from the same period in 2017.

The vast majority of the 1,036 deaths in the first quarter of 2018 were accidental, said the report. Nearly three-quarters of accidental deaths involved fentanyl or fentanyl analogues — a slight increase from 2017.

British Columbia had 390 deaths in early 2018, the highest in the country. Ontario was second with 320 deaths.

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Many accidental deaths also involved non-opioid substances, like alcohol, cocaine, or benzodiazepines.

“The latest data suggest that the crisis is not abating,” wrote committee co-chairs Dr. Theresa Tam and Dr. Robert Strang in a statement.

“We want to emphasize that the current crisis does not discriminate. It impacts people from all walks of life, all age groups and all socioeconomic backgrounds.”

The new numbers reveal a changing pattern of overdoses, they said. “Historically, overdose-related deaths tended to be concentrated among people who had consumed drugs for a prolonged period. The current crisis reveals a wider spectrum —from persons who pass away the first time they take drugs, to persons living with chronic pain, to persons more experienced with substance use.”

“In order to address the opioid crisis, we need to explore the deeper social and structural determinants of health, such as risk factors and other causes that can lead to problematic substance use. We will continue to examine all available evidence to better understand the evolving trends of this crisis and to adjust our response efforts.”


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