Canada’s public health agency says the COVID-19 pandemic drove an increasingly deadly overdose crisis last year that continues to take lives and corrode communities.
Grim new numbers from the agency show 6,214 people suffered opioid-related deaths in 2020 — 17 deaths per day on average — compared to fewer than 4,000 in 2019.
The numbers spiralled upward as the year wore on, peaking at 1,766 in the last three months of 2020 as health precautions narrowed access to services ranging from doctor visits to supervised consumption sites.
Restrictions on gathering isolated some users, while Canada’s ongoing border restrictions disrupted the flow of illicit drugs, resulting in more toxic adulterants in the supply.
Health Canada is currently working with Vancouver on the city’s request for exemption from criminal provisions on simple possession of small amounts of drugs in a bid to treat consumption as a health issue rather than a crime.
The agency says at least 21,174 people have died from apparent opioid toxicity between 2016 and 2020.