Toronto saw at least 511 opioid overdose deaths in 2021, new data suggests

Toronto Public Health's offices at Dundas and Victoria St. in Toronto on Monday, August 21, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston

New data from Toronto Public Health (TPH) suggests there were at least 511 opioid overdose deaths in the city in 2021.

The preliminary data, released Friday by the Office of the Chief Coroner for Ontario, represents a 74 per cent increase from 2019, and a 273 per cent increase from numbers recorded in 2015.

In a press release, TPH said a “dramatic rise” in opioid overdose deaths was also seen across Ontario and Canada in 2020.

According to the release, in 2020, there were 539 overdose deaths in the city.

The data said in 2021 there were 6,005 non-fatal and 357 fatal calls to Toronto paramedics for suspected opioid overdoses.

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TPH said this marks a 65 per cent increase overall when compared to 2020.

The release said TPH issued “a number of drug alerts on new or noteworthy drug trends” in Toronto’s unregulated drug supply to warn those who use and those who care for people who do.

What’s more, the Ontario Ministry of Health data also shows that the monthly number of emergency department visits due to opioid poisoning in the city in the fall of 2021 were the highest since 2017.

According to the release, in 2021 there were a total of 3,947 emergency department visits due to opioid poisoning.

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“As the Office of the Chief Coroner for Ontario completes their investigations, it is expected that confirmed opioid overdose deaths in Toronto in 2021 will increase,” the release reads.

Toronto Mayor John Tory said any life lost to a drug overdose is “preventable and totally unacceptable.”

“Every death from an overdose is a tragedy that leaves families, loved ones and friends devastated,” he said in a statement. “No one is immune from this crisis. We cannot understate or shy away from the terrible impact of these deaths.”

He said the city government has “taken action” with TPH to “address this as the health-care matter that it most certainly is.”

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“We are doing all we can to implement harm reduction programs to help save lives – those measures have helped stop overdoses and have saved lives but, as we see from the data we have made public today, far too many people are still dying from overdoses,” he continued.

“We remain ready to work with the Government of Canada and the Government of Ontario – this is principally the responsibility of the provincial health-care system – to help implement much more robust and expanded healthcare and addiction treatment.”

He said it is “time that both governments work together with us to get this done to help save the lives of residents in Toronto and across our country.”

Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa said the overdose crisis “continues to be an urgent public health issue in Toronto.”

“On keeping with our response to the COVID-19 pandemic, addressing the drug poisoning crisis of this size and scale requires resources and action from all levels of government,” she said in a statement.

De Villa said these are “preventable losses and members of our community.”

“I extend my sincere condolences to the families, friends and loved ones of these individuals that we’ve lost,” she said.

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