Pubdate: Tue, 19 Dec 2017
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2017 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Andrea Woo
Page: A8


Canada is on pace to lose more than 4,000 people to opioid-related
deaths this year - with about one-third of them in British Columbia,
according to new figures from the Public Health Agency of Canada.

The grim update was in a national report the federal government
released on Monday. The report described the country's opioid crisis
as "serious and growing," devastating families and communities nationwide.

"Tragically, the data released today indicate that the crisis
continues to worsen, despite the efforts from all levels of government
and partners to reverse the trend," chief public health officer
Theresa Tam and Nova Scotia chief medical officer of health Robert
Strang, co-chairs of Canada's special advisory committee on opioids,
said in a statement.

"While epidemiological data are crucial to understanding and
addressing the opioid crisis, we must not forget the cherished human
life behind each death in today's release. To prevent further loss of
life, we must continue our efforts to address the immediate crisis
and, in the longer term, the factors at the root of problematic
substance use."

The statement said Ottawa is working with provinces and territories
"on a special study to better understand the context of opioid-related
deaths as well as initiatives to advance harm reduction approaches and
support prevention efforts," but provided no further details.

Neither Dr. Tam nor Dr. Strang were available for interviews on
Monday. The projection is based on provincial and territorial data
showing that at least 1,460 people died of opioid-related overdoses in
the first half of 2017. This figure will rise as more cases are
concluded and more data become available.

Dr. Tam and Dr. Strang said Canada may have more than 4,000 deaths by
year's end if current trends continue. This would be a 40-per-cent
increase from 2016, when 2,861 people died of apparent opioid-related
overdoses. In comparison, an average of about 2,000 people have died
from motor-vehicle collisions every year from 2010 to 2015, Transport
Canada says.

About one-third of the 4,000 deaths is expected to be in B.C., which
recorded about 1,000 fentanyl-related deaths out of a total of 1,208
illicit drug deaths in the first 10 months of the year. The hard-hit
province had an overdose death rate of 20.7 per 100,000 population.

The new data also reaffirm the fact that fentanyl, a synthetic opioid
that has flooded the illicit drug market in the past five years, has
fuelled the surge in overdose deaths. From January through June, 74
per cent of all apparent opioid-related deaths involved fentanyl or
drugs chemically similar to fentanyl, compared with 53 per cent in

The highest rate was in B.C., where 83 per cent of all overdose deaths
this year involved fentanyl. Among other findings: Three-quarters (74
per cent) of deaths were among men and 28 per cent were among people
between the ages of 30 and 39.

Speaking at a conference on substance use in Calgary last month,
federal Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor announced several
initiatives the government is supporting in efforts to turn the tide
on the overdose crisis.

They include issuing federal permits for provinces to quickly open
overdose-prevention sites - official supervised-drug-use sites are
subject to a lengthier approval process - permission to offer users
the opportunity to check their drugs for fentanyl at all such sites,
and support of "innovative pilot projects that will provide a safer
opioid alternative."

Ottawa is also looking into removing the special exemption required
for methadone prescribing, as well as changes that would allow
pharmaceuticalgrade heroin to be administered to patients outside a
hospital as part of maintenance therapy.

Canada has approved about 30 supervised-drug-use sites to date.
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MAP posted-by: Matt