Opioid use and overdose have become a health emergency that affects all provinces and territories across Canada. A recent publication by the Canadian Institute for Health Information shows that the number of hospital admissions and emergency department visits due to opioid use is growing. The types of opioids that are commonly used include heroin, codeine, morphine, oxycodone, fentanyl, and others. Some medications are prescribed for pain relief but they are also addictive.
Statistics and Figures
The Public Health Agency of Canada - https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health.html released data, according to which in 2017 alone, some 4,000 people died from overdosing. Close to 30 percent of Canadians admit to having used opioids during the last five years. The problem is real and serious in light of the fact that during 2016/2017 there were 16 hospital admissions a day due to overdosing. The number of admissions increased by 19 percent compared to 2014/2015. In fact, admission rates increased by 53 percent over a 10-year period (from 2007 to 2017). This is an alarming increase which points to the fact that the opioid crisis needs a comprehensive approach.
Hospital admissions vary across the country but are higher in Western and Northern Canada. Opioid-related death rates are the highest in Alberta, British Columbia, the Northwest Territories, and Yukon. Western Canada has a higher death rate (10 deaths per 100,000) than the national average (8 deaths per 100,000). Saskatchewan, Nunavut, and New Brunswick have the lowest rates or 0 to 4.9 deaths per 100,000.
Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam highlights the fact that some 2,800 people died from overdosing in 2016, and the number of opium deaths is higher than the number of deaths due to HIV during the 1990s epidemic.
Conferences, Commitments, and Initiatives
The federal government collaborated with the territorial and provincial authorities to develop a comprehensive plan to deal with the crisis. The Opioid Conference and Summit in 2016 brought together policymakers, regulatory bodies, national organizations, professional associations, and other key players. The Joint Statement of Action was developed to direct efforts in areas such as harm reduction, treatment, and prevention. The number of partners also increased from more than 30 to 54. A number of commitments and projects are in progress while others were completed. One commitment focused on educating patients about opioids and was jointly completed by Patients for Patient Safety in Canada, the Canadian Patient
Safety Institute, and the Institute for Safe Medication Practices Canada.
А number of initiatives took place as a result of collaboration between different partners, including social media and media activities, creation of knowledge dissemination products, and others. Other initiatives include teleconferences and webinars to encourage collaboration between key partners. A number of case studies were also produced, including studies with a focus on updating medical school competencies, tools for patient education, and improved strategies for pain management. Other case studies focus on surveillance and monitoring and e-prescribing solutions that enable healthcare professionals to send online prescriptions to pharmacies. A number of activities and events also took place, including panels, meetings, discussions, presentations, and sessions. More than 4,000 training sessions, webinars, and workshops were organized and multiple websites were launched. Training sessions were organized in 126 indigenous communities and Take-Home Naloxone kits were offered.
The Government Strategy
The federal government has developed and implemented the Drug and Substance Abuse Strategy to deal with the opioid crisis. The main pillars of the strategy are treatment, public health emergency response, prevention, harm reduction, evidence base, and enforcement. Supervised consumption sites have been created under the strategy. The main goals are to minimize the risk of disease transmission and to prevent overdosing. Supervised consumption sites offer a number of services such as housing, detoxification, management of withdrawal symptoms, counseling, and drug treatment. In addition, supervised consumption sites offer information about needle exchange and social welfare programs, community services, and mental health treatment. Patients are also offered information about primary health care, housing services, and rehabilitation.
The government also has an Emergency Treatment Fund to provide one-time financial assistance to the territorial and provincial governments to provide better quality services and treatment. Funding in the amount of $150 million is available.
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