Coronavirus pandemic making Canada's opioids crisis worse: Official

OTTAWA (AFP) – The coronavirus pandemic is having a troubling knock-on effect on Canada’s opioid crisis, with drug-related deaths up sharply in the spring, a government report said Wednesday (Dec 16).

Canada’s special intra-governmental advisory committee on the opioids epidemic said 1,628 people died of opioids overdoses from April to June, up 58 per cent from the previous quarter.

It was the highest total number of opioid-related deaths in any one quarter since national statistics were first compiled in 2016.

“Prior to the onset of the Covid-19 outbreak in Canada, we were seeing early and promising signs that opioid toxicity deaths were beginning to decline in some areas of the country,” committee leaders said.

“The national data released today offers insight into the severe and worsening impact that the Covid-19 pandemic has had on the overdose crisis,” they added.

Experts said opioid users were facing increased risk because of the pandemic, which has sparked increased unemployment and homelessness as housing costs soar.

“We must act now to change these troubling projections. We must renew our collective efforts across the country.” In the first half of 2020, approximately half of all opioid-related deaths also involved the use of a stimulant, such as cocaine or methamphetamine.

“Unfortunately, updated projections released today by the Public Health Agency of Canada suggest that these numbers may remain high in the coming months,” the committee said.

From January 2016 to June 2020, more than 17,600 people have died in Canada as a results of the opioids crisis, data showed.

Faced with the spiralling epidemic, the Canadian government recently created a C$300 million (S$313.4 million) emergency fund to help bolster provincial health systems to treat those in need.

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