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🤢⚕️ Statement From the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions and Associate Minister of Health on the Overdose Crisis

Tuesday, 02 April 2024 08:00.AM

The overdose crisis is one of the most serious and unprecedented public health threats in Canada's recent history. It is driven by the illegal drug supply, which is unpredictable, rapidly changing and growing increasingly toxic. The overdose crisis is tragic and having devastating impacts on individuals, friends, and families across the country, leaving no community left untouched.

Today's national data release on opioid-and stimulant-related harms shows us that the number of opioid-related deaths in Canada remains far too high. An average of 22 people are dying every day, and there are approximately 80 opioid-related poisoning emergency department visits per day. Additionally, from January to September 2023, there were 33,015 Emergency Medical Services (EMS) responses for suspected opioid-related overdoses.

The rapidly changing and volatile illegal drug supply is a key driver behind this increase in deaths, hospitalizations, EMS responses, and emergency department visits. Of all accidental apparent opioid toxicity deaths in 2023 from January to September, 82% involved fentanyl – this percentage has increased 44% since 2016 when national surveillance began. Newer substances and contaminants, such as xylazine and nitazenes, are more frequently found in the illegal drug market.

This situation is heartbreaking and we will continue to use every tool at our disposal to find solutions to tackle the overdose crisis and save lives. We have listened to Canadians, including frontline workers, people who use drugs and their families, communities, Indigenous partners, and all orders of government. Each story and community is unique, and it is clear that no single intervention will turn the tide. Experts have repeatedly told us that only a holistic, comprehensive spectrum of supports will achieve the outcome we all want to see achieved: deaths averted, and wellness and health restored.

The Government of Canada has taken a range of actions to address the overdose crisis. Guided by the recently renewed Canadian Drugs and Substances Strategy (CDSS), we have put compassion and dignity at the centre of our approach. Canada's model puts in place a comprehensive and evidence-based continuum of supports, including drug prevention initiatives to educate Canadians on the risks of using substances before substance use begins. The newly launched Youth Substance Use Prevention Program is one example of efforts to build protective factors that promote overall health and well-being, and prevent substance use harms among youth. Canada's model further invests in law enforcement and seeks to expand access to quality treatment, after-care, and recovery services across the country.

Harm reduction is also an important part of our approach. This includes measures to support people who are currently using drugs to ensure they do not turn to the deadly illegal drug supply and to help them connect with health and social services. As of October 2023, over 53,000 overdoses have been responded to in supervised consumption sites across Canada. These sites are lifesaving. They protect the community by reducing public drug use, the spread of infectious diseases, and the strain on emergency medical services. Additionally, more than 424,000 referrals were made to connect people with health and social services, including primary medical care, counselling, and housing and employment supports.

The overdose crisis is bigger than any one government or organization. It will take the collective efforts of everyone, working together ─ provinces and territories, Indigenous leaders, professional and regulatory bodies, health care providers and law enforcement alike ─ to help stop the needless harms and deaths of Canadians. We will continue to listen to the experts and to Canadians about what is working, what can be improved, and how we can ultimately save lives.

The Honourable Ya'ara Saks, P.C., M.P

SOURCE Public Health Agency of Canada