Opioid Crisis a Leading Cause of Preventable Deaths: Report

November 5, 2020 Updated: November 7, 2020

About 13 Canadians died every day as a result of opioids in 2018, says a new report, while unintentional poisonings have surpassed motor-vehicle collisions as a major cause of preventable death in Canada.

That’s a key finding of the Evidence Summary on the Prevention of Poisoning in Canada, a joint report by Parachute, which is a national charity dedicated to injury prevention, and the Injury Prevention Centre at the University of Alberta.

The report, released Nov. 5, describes poisoning as “the toxic effects of a substance on the body,” such as medication, cleaning products, or gases like carbon monoxide. 

It said unintentional poisonings surpassed transport-related injuries in the annual death toll in 2015, and in 2017 that death toll increased to more than twice as many deaths compared to those from transport-related injuries.

Using data from the Public Health Agency of Canada, the report’s authors found that in 2018, 4,614 deaths were a result of opioids, while hospitalizations due to opioid poisoning also increased by 27 percent from 2013 to 2017.

“While young children and seniors are at high risk for many mechanisms of poisoning, such as exposure to corrosive household cleaners or over-the-counter medications, males in mid-adulthood are the major population at risk for opioid-related poisonings,” said Pamela Fuselli, president and CEO of Parachute and co-author of the report, in a press release.

“Nearly half of all opioid-related poisoning deaths in Canada are among those aged 30 to 49, and three-quarters are among males.”

The report also notes that Western Canada has been the region most impacted by the opioid crisis. British Columbia declared a public health emergency in 2016 due to a rapid increase in deaths from illicit-drug toxicity. In 2018, British Columbia reported more than 1,500 deaths due to illicit-drug use, with fentanyl detected in 87 percent of those cases.

Since the implementation of lockdowns and other COVID-19 public health measures this spring, opioid-related harms have spiked in several parts of Canada, according to public health data. 

British Columbia saw 1,068 illicit-drug deaths in the first eight months of 2020 alone, based on preliminary data—surpassing the total of those deaths for all of 2019. It also far surpassed the 208 total deaths from COVID-19 during the same time period.