Opioid crisis may be lowering Canadians’ life expectancy, report says

A man walks past a mural by street artist Smokey D. painted as a response to the fentanyl and opioid overdose crisis, in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, B.C., on Thursday, December 22, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Canada’s chief public health officer says the opioid crisis may be responsible for limiting Canadians’ life expectancy.

In a report released this morning, Dr. Theresa Tam says life expectancy has been steadily on the rise in Canada but she warns the life expectancy in B.C. is decreasing – the province hit hardest by the opioid crisis. Although no national statistics are currently available, the Public Health Agency of Canada is studying the impact of the opioid crisis on overall life expectancy.

Tam’s report, focusing on alcohol, cannabis and opioid use among youth, also says the drop in life expectancy is more prominent among men and Canadians living in poorer neighbourhoods.

READ MORE: How a handful of pharmacists flooded Ontario’s streets with lethal fentanyl amid a national opioid crisis

It calls for further research on effective policies for preventing problematic opioid and cannabis use in youth.

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Tam also says Canadian regulations coming soon will restrict marketing and advertising of opioids to health-care practitioners noting this “may help” reduce overprescribing of the drugs.

READ MORE: Nearly 4,000 Canadians died of opioid overdoses in 2017, a new record

Government data shows nearly 4,000 Canadians died from apparent opioid overdoses last year.

B.C.’s provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said men in their 20s and 30s and those who live in poverty are most vulnerable.

“[Life expectancy] went down from just over 83 years to 82.4 years,” she said. “That’s quite a lot, and that’s unexpected, we haven’t seen a decrease in life expectancy in over 30 years.”

— With files from CKNW

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