New information released by The Ontario Drug Policy Research Network (ODPRN), the Office of the Chief Coroner for Ontario/Ontario Forensic Pathology Service and Public Health Ontario shows that 2020 was the most tragic year on record in opioid-related deaths, with 249 deaths reported in December 2020 alone. There were 2,426 opioid-related deaths reported in 2020, which is a 60 percent increase over the same time period in 2019 (1,516 deaths).
Fentanyl, a high-strength opioid, continues to drive this increase as it is reported to be accountable for 87 percent of deaths. People who use unregulated street drugs may not realize they are consuming fentanyl.
These deadly health impacts of opioid use and increasingly toxic drug supply require increased access to harm reduction services, including safer opioid supply initiatives, to provide services and support for people who use drugs in Ontario.
Harm reduction is an evidence-based, client-centred approach that seeks to reduce the health and social harms associated with substance use. Harm reduction interventions includes low barrier access to naloxone, managed alcohol programs, safe consumption sites and outpatient substance-use counselling and supports.
Naloxone is a medication that can reverse an opioid overdose. Many Ontario pharmacies offer free injectable and nasal spray naloxone kits without a prescription. CMHA Ontario has developed an opioid overdose toolkit to provide more information about opioids and naloxone access in Ontario. Reducing Harms: Recognizing and Responding to Opioid Overdoses in Your Organization is also useful for the average person who wants to learn more about how to use naloxone during an opioid-related emergency at home.
Safer opioid supply is a harm-reduction approach that focuses on saving lives through the provision of safe doses of opioid medication, provided by a health care practitioner, as an alternative to the contaminated sources of unregulated drugs currently available on the street. CMHA branches in Ontario recently issued a statement voicing our support for safer opioid supply approaches in the province.
Learn more by reading the full report on the OPDRN website.