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A joint response  

Every day, approximately 13 Canadians are hospitalized for opioid poisoning. CIHI is partnering with national health organizations to help address this crisis by playing a leading role in supporting substance use surveillance.

We talked to 3 of the collaborators regarding the work being done: Paul Sajan, CIHI’s manager of Prescription Drug Abuse; Dr. Matthew Young, senior research and policy analyst with the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (CCSA); and Jessica Halverson, director of the Centre for Public Health Infrastructure at the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC).

Attendees of the Opioid Summit held in Ottawa on November 19, 2016 (click to enlarge this image).

The Public Health Agency of Canada is ramping up its public health surveillance related to opioids. To do so effectively, strong partnerships are imperative. Comparative data is crucial to monitoring the opioid crisis, and CIHI is a keen collaborator and facilitator.

Jessica Halverson, PHAC

How are experts coming together?

In November 2016, the federal and Ontario ministers of health co-chaired a national opioid conference and summit. They led a national discussion to address and reduce the harms related to opioids in Canada. CIHI was invited to sign a joint statement committing our organization to several activities in response to the crisis. Summit organizers are now developing a joint action plan for Canada.

What do we know?

In partnership with CCSA, CIHI released its first report on prescription drug abuse (PDF) just before the opioid summit. It reported on hospitalizations and emergency department visits due to opioid poisonings. Though all age groups are affected by opioid harms, seniors had the highest rate of hospitalizations. Youth age 15 to 24 had the fastest rate of growth for hospitalizations.

It is an excellent partnership. CCSA provides content expertise and CIHI knows the data. If health care providers have the information at their fingertips, they can better target programs and services.

Dr. Matthew Young, CCSA

What else is being done?

A significant gap in comparable death data is being addressed through a new partnership with PHAC, provincial/territorial public health representatives, and chief coroners and chief medical examiners. This past March, a meeting was held to establish consensus on a national definition of opioid-related death. Consistent reporting over the longer term will improve the quality of data collection and increase the evidence base on the use and harms of opioids. In addition, CIHI is now reporting weekly data on emergency department visits for opioid overdoses to the Ontario ministry and will be expanding that coverage across Canada to provide even more data on this public health issue.

There is no one solution to fix the crisis. It requires collaboration between all partners to determine how to reduce harms, provide public education and prescribe opioids safely. Better data will help us better understand the appropriate use and potential risks of opioids in Canada.

Paul Sajan, CIHI