Toronto Public Health says the city experienced a record number of overdose deaths in December — 34 fatalities — and the agency is calling on all levels of government to help.
“This represents the worst loss of lives to the opioid crisis recorded in a single month since TPH began monitoring this data in 2017,” a statement read on Friday.
Furthermore, TPH said between Jan. 1 and Jan. 26, Toronto paramedics responded to 30 calls for suspected opioid overdoses that ended up being fatal.
Between 2019 and 2020, suspected opioid overdose calls for emergency services rose 90 per cent. The Office of the Chief Coroner of Ontario confirmed 341 opioid toxicity deaths alone in Toronto between Jan. 1 2020 and Sept. 20, 2020.
In regards to all drug-related deaths, including opioids, the coroner office’s preliminary data said there were 823 deaths in Toronto in 2020 — 67 per cent higher than in 2019. The office also said the amount will most likely increase as more data becomes available.
“This tragic record further proves what we already know: that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the already deadly overdose crisis in Toronto,” said Joe Cressy, Toronto councillor and chair of the Toronto Board of Health.
“The combination of an increasingly toxic drug supply, reductions of services and supports due to pandemic restrictions, and isolation and mental health challenges have resulted in tragic outcomes,” Cressy continued.
TPH said it “remains focused on implementing the Toronto Overdose Action Plan” and is working with partners in the community to address the ongoing crisis, especially in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
An Urgent Public Health Need Site (UPHNS) is operating at the Bond Hotel and TPH said another one is scheduled to open at the Edward Hotel in February. These sites “provide critical lifesaving services for the residents of these physical distancing hotels.”
TPH said the sites ensure that those who use drugs are not alone and that if medical support is needed, it is available.
On top of these sites, TPH said a harm reduction site will be re-opening at 277 Victoria St.
“The opioid poisoning crisis has intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dr. Eileen de Villa, the city’s medical officer of health.
“We continue to lose too many lives to these preventable deaths. Each person is someone’s loved one, friend or colleague. They all deserved the chance and the support to see where else life might have taken them.”
TPH said more help is needed from all levels of government in order to fight the worsening opioid epidemic.
Cressy said investments from different levels of government could allow for safer supply programs and more easily accessible harm reduction services.
He said the board of health has called on both the provincial and federal governments to allow for more than 21 supervised injection sites in Ontario, fund treatment and harm reduction programs, and expand access and distribution of naloxone — a life-saving treatment that can reverse overdoses, among other things.
Ontario is currently under a stay-at-home order as the province grapples with the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
More data and information on the opioid crisis is available here.