This media release was developed in partnership with Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada External link, opens in new window and provides a national overview of opioid-related harms and deaths in Canada.

More than 9,000 Canadians lost their lives between January 2016 and June 2018

December 12, 2018 — The opioid crisis continues to devastate communities and families from coast to coast to coast. Collecting and sharing data helps inform policies and interventions that will have a direct impact on the people most affected by this crisis. Data released today demonstrate that the opioid crisis continues. It is affecting people from all walks of life, all age groups and all socio-economic backgrounds.

Today, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) released data on behalf of the federal, provincial and territorial Special Advisory Committee on the Epidemic of Opioid Overdoses External link, opens in new window on apparent opioid-related deaths in the first half of 2018 in Canada, as well as data on suspected opioid-related overdoses reported by emergency medical services. In addition, the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) released updated data on hospitalizations and emergency department visits due to opioid poisonings.

In the first half of 2018, more than 2,000 Canadians lost their lives. Tragically, that means more than 9,000 lives were lost in Canada between January 2016 and June 2018 to an apparent opioid-related overdose. These statistics suggest that we have not yet turned the tide on the crisis. Of the deaths reported in the first half of 2018 (January to June), 94% were the result of accidental overdoses, of which almost three quarters (72%) involved fentanyl-related substances. This indicates the continuing role of fentanyl contamination of the street drug supply in this crisis, highlighting the vital importance of increasing access to a safer supply of drugs to prevent death and other harms.

In addition to these deaths, thousands of Canadians have also experienced non-fatal opioid overdoses and related harms. Data released from CIHI today show a 27% increase in hospitalizations due to opioid-related poisonings over the past five years. In 2017, hospitalization rates were 2.5 times higher in smaller communities with a population of between 50,000 and 100,000 compared to Canada’s largest cities. 

PHAC has also released key findings from a special analysis of the impact of opioid overdoses on life expectancy at birth in Canada. Life expectancy in Canada, which increased by almost three years between 2000 and 2016, has slowed its progress, partly due to the dramatic rise in substance-related deaths, including opioid-related deaths. 

The Government of Canada continues to take action, including removing barriers to access to treatment services across the country, improving access to harm reduction services and eliminating the stigma associated with people who use drugs so that they can access the health and social services they need to live healthier lives. We remain committed to working with all levels of government, stakeholders and people with lived and living experience to address the opioid crisis.

Quotes

“The data released today represent individuals who have lost their lives — loved ones who have left behind families, communities, and others who may be struggling with problematic substance use themselves. These numbers are heartbreaking. One death is too many in this tragedy. The data released today will help us to continue to develop strategies to reduce deaths and to better inform public health interventions and policies for us all.”

— The Honourable Ginette Petitpas Taylor, Minister of Health

“Today’s newly released data are concerning. Over the last two and a half years, there have been more than 9,000 apparent opioid-related deaths in Canada. Data for the first half of 2018 indicate that most (94%) of these deaths were accidental poisonings, of which nearly three quarters (72%) were unintentional deaths involving highly toxic fentanyl and fentanyl-related substances. This continuing crisis requires our unrelenting commitment to a flexible and collaborative response from all partners.”

— Dr. Theresa Tam, Chief Public Health Officer of Canada; Co-Chair, Special Advisory Committee on the Epidemic of Opioid Overdoses

“Canada’s opioid crisis is a serious public health issue that affects all provinces and territories and too many families across Canada. We are well aware of the devastating effects and have great empathy for those who are suffering. As we work on this crisis every day, we know there remains much work to do. Like our colleagues in the federal government, all provinces and territories are committed to stopping overdoses and using innovative ways to do so.”

— Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan’s Chief Medical Health Officer; Co-Chair, Special Advisory Committee on the Epidemic of Opioid Overdoses

“Opioid hospitalizations continue to increase in Canada and hospitalization rates in smaller communities are more than double the rates in larger cities — it is not just a big city problem. Our report provides valuable information to public health officials, policy makers and those working in the health care system. CIHI’s monitoring of opioid-related harms and prescribing trends supports the work of Health Canada and our other partners across the country in their efforts to reduce the number of Canadians harmed each day by the opioid crisis.”

— David O’Toole, President and CEO, Canadian Institute for Health Information

Quick facts

  • From January 2016 to June 2018, there were more than 9,000 apparent opioid-related deaths; 2,000 occurred between January and June 2018.
  • Most accidental apparent opioid-related deaths were among young and middle aged adults; 20% were individuals between the ages of 20 and 29, 27% were between the ages of 30 and 39 and 21% were between the ages of 40-49.
  • The Canadian Institute for Health Information found that an average of 17 Canadians were hospitalized every day due to opioid poisoning in 2017 — an increase from 16 per day in 2016.
  • CIHI also found that between 2016 and 2017, rates of emergency department visits due to opioid poisoning rose in Ontario and Alberta by 73% and 23%, respectively.
  • Based on available emergency medical services data between January and June 2018, 71% of suspected opioid-related overdoses occurred among men. 

Associated links

Overview of national data on opioid-related harms and deaths External link, opens in new window

Contacts

Thierry Bélair
Office of Ginette Petitpas Taylor
Minister of Health
613-957-0200

Media Relations
Public Health Agency of Canada
613-957-2983 
hc.media.sc@canada.ca

Julie Bortolotti
Canadian Institute for Health Information
613-694-6654
media@cihi.ca

Public inquiries
613-957-2991
1-866-225-0709