Ontario emergency room visits and deaths from opioids up significantly in 2020

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New data shows opioid deaths and emergency department visits for overdoses in Ontario were up significantly in 2020 compared to the year before.

Figures released by Public Health Ontario show fatal opioid overdoses were up 60 per cent across the province in 2020.

The arms-length agency says there were 2,422 opioid deaths in 2020 versus 1,516 deaths the year before.

Emergency department visits for opioid overdoses increased nearly 20 per cent – from 10,478 visits in 2019 to 12,513 last year.

The data shows hospitalizations due to opioids changed little across the province in 2020.

In May, the Ontario Drug Policy Research Network along with Public Health Ontario and the coroner's office released a report that showed the province's opioid crisis worsened dramatically during the pandemic.

The report focused on opioid-related deaths and found the homeless population and those who were unemployed accounted for a significant portion of fatal overdoses.

Those researchers found that opioid overdose deaths were up more than 75 per cent after COVID-19 hit in March 2020, compared to the year before.

They found that the rate of opioid fatalities accelerated during the pandemic.

The researchers said the spike in deaths was due to an increasingly unpredictable drug supply that is contaminated and toxic, largely due to the deadly opioid fentanyl.

Changes in access to health care when the pandemic hit and the lack of supports for users also contributed to the increase, the researchers said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 17, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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