Drug and alcohol deaths increased in Canada during the first 12 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to more overall deaths than expected, according to a new report released by Statistics Canada on Monday.
The report, which includes deaths from the end of March 2020 to the beginning of April 2021, shows an additional 5,535 Canadians under 65 died, after accounting for changes in the population such as aging.
Less than 1,400 Canadians under 65 died of COVID-19 in that same period.
The increase in deaths, according to the agency, is mostly related to factors such as “substance abuse and misuse.”
The StatsCan report said deaths caused by accidental poisonings reached a new high last year.
“In 2017, at the height of the opioid crisis, the annual mortality rate was 10.2 deaths per 100,000 people (3,230 deaths), the highest observed prior to 2020,” the report said.
“The mortality rate in 2020, based on the provisional data, was 11.3 deaths per 100,000 people (3,705 deaths).”
In 2020, the number of alcohol-related deaths also increased among men and women under the age of 65.
“As with deaths attributed to accidental poisoning, the disruption of support programs and services to reduce alcohol use may also have been a factor contributing to the rise in alcohol-induced deaths during the pandemic,” the report said.
“Also, the economic, social, and psychological impacts of the pandemic as well as the public health measures in place may have played a role in increasing alcohol use among some individuals.
Chad Saxon with the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba isn’t surprised by the numbers.
About 70 per cent of the foundation’s adult clients are dealing with an alcohol addiction, which is up slightly from the last couple years.
“We know several Manitobans are dealing with a lot of stress about their heath, uncertain job status, financial worries, concerns about what the future holds,” Saxon said. “Those factors can cause unhealthy coping habits.”
Saxon is encouraging anyone concerned about their own, or someone else’s substance use, to reach out for help.
“They may feel alone and isolated, especially in these times during the pandemic but it’s important that they understand help is available to them.”