The opioid crisis in Canada has been building for years and finally came to a head in 2016. After years, the crisis came to the forefront of a national dialogue on substance abuse, pharmaceuticals, and Canadians’ health. In 2016, it seemed as though the crisis was on the minds of every politician. Many provincial governments began studying the issue and releasing reports. Some even began enacting programs to counter the crisis.
Despite ongoing efforts to curb the opioid crisis, it’s still a major issue for Canadians and their healthcare system and governments in 2018. The statistics demonstrate how deep the crisis actually goes.
1. A Rising Death Toll
In 2016, there were nearly 3,000 apparent opioid-related deaths in Canada. It can sometimes be difficult to determine the cause of death, which is why the statistics record these as “apparent opioid-related” deaths.
From January to September 2017, there was nearly the same number of total deaths from opioids. A total of 2,923 cases were recorded when September ended, which put the total number of deaths on track to exceed the 2016 total.
This means that, despite government policies, the death toll is still rising. Swifter actions and more effective programs are needed to save more lives.
2. Fentanyl on the Rise
In addition to more total deaths, many more deaths in 2017 were deemed accidental. In 2016, around 88 percent of deaths were considered unintentional or accidental. By the end of September 2017, that number had risen to 92 percent, a four-percent increase. In both years, most opioid-related deaths were accidents.
Fentanyl appears to be the culprit behind both the number of accidental deaths and the rising percentage of accidental death. Around 72 percent of those deaths reported between January and September 2017 involved fentanyl or a fentanyl analogue. This was a nearly 20-percent jump from 2016, when 55 percent of deaths involved these substances.
3. Males Aged 30 to 39 Are Most at Risk
People between the ages of 30 and 39 accounted for nearly 30 percent of deaths in 2017, and men accounted for a staggering three-quarters of those deaths. Men between the ages of 30 and 39 are thus a high-risk category.
Men in this age group are also likely to have suffered an injury or physical disability, possibly as the result of a workplace accident, which may result in the need to treat chronic pain. Young men are also more likely to engage in risky behaviours, which could contribute to the risk profile of this group.
4. The Total Number of Deaths Could Exceed 4,000
The most recent numbers reported by the federal government only cover up to the end of September 2017. In December 2017, officials at the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) suggested data from the provinces indicated the death toll could exceed 4,000.
All provinces were affected as well, with British Columbia and Ontario reporting the highest death tolls. The Prairie provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan had the highest proportion of deaths per capita based on their lower populations.
5. The World’s Second-Largest Consumer of Opioids
Canada ranks only second to the US in terms of opioid use. Doctors prescribed opioids to one in every two Canadians in 2016. Opioid prescriptions began climbing in 1996 and doubled in the six-year period from 2006 to 2012. They’ve continued to climb year over year since.
Now, healthcare professionals, patient advocates, government officials, and patients themselves are looking for ways to fight back against the opioid crisis. With new research indicating opioids are no better at treating conditions like chronic pain, a shift away from these dangerous substances seems inevitable.
Many are turning to medical cannabis as a potential solution. Studies suggest cannabis may be able to help people reduce and even eliminate opioid use in the treatment of chronic pain and other conditions. Solving the opioid crisis is imperative to save Canadian lives, and medical cannabis may be one potential solution.