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Opioid overdose numbers rise during pandemic


February 11, 2021
By Canadian Press

Feb. 11, 2021 – Drug-related overdoses in the region more than doubled in the last eight months of 2020. According to statistics compiled by the Eastern Ontario Health Unit, emergency department visits increased due to opioids.

In the 12 months between April 2019 and March 2020, there were 35 emergency department visits to hospitals in Prescott-Russell, SDG Counties, and the City of Cornwall. Between April 2020 and December 2020, that number increased to at least 75 visits.

The numbers from the National Ambulatory Care Reporting System from the Canadian Institute for Health were not finalized for 2020 so the 75 visits may actually be higher.

Opioid related deaths for the region have also increased. According to the Public Health Ontario Opioid Tracker, the EOHU region saw seven opioid-related deaths in 2019. In the first six months of 2020, there had already been seven deaths.

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“This is obviously something that concerns us,” said EOHU Medical Officer of Health Dr. Paul Roumeliotis. “Mental health and drug addictions have been an unwanted consequence of the lockdown and the pandemic.”

Statistics from PHO show that the most widely used opioid that led to death was Hydromorphone, followed by Morphine, Oxycodone, and Fentanyl.

Women over 65 years of age and men between 25 and 44 are the two leading age and gender groups to visit an emergency department due to opioid abuse.

Eastern Ontario is not alone when it comes to increased opioid use during the pandemic. A preliminary report by Ontario Public Health released last fall showed a 38 per cent increase in opioid use in the first 15 weeks of the pandemic compared to the 15 weeks immediately before the pandemic began. The report focused on confirmed or suspected opioid-related deaths.

OPH identified the increase in opioid-related deaths to drug use alone, and said that physical distancing measures likely influenced the increase. The report said that the pandemic-related measures may have reduced access to safer spaces to use drugs or support networks.

Use of opioid-based drugs has increased in the past year as noted in local reports from the SD&G OPP with several busts in the region for opioid trafficking.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 11, 2021.