Toronto, Ontario – A recent report suggests a troubling trend of drug overdose deaths involving multiple substances has been on the rise in Ontario since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The report, published by the Ontario Drug Policy Research Network and Public Health Ontario, reveals an increasing number of fatalities associated with multiple toxic substances, reflecting a similar pattern across Canada and the United States.
According to the report, the pandemic’s aftermath, marked by mental health struggles and financial difficulties, has contributed to a surge in overdoses. Complicating matters further, individuals are increasingly found with more than one drug in their systems, leading to more complex and challenging addictions that require specialized treatments.
The study indicates that, from 2018 to 2021, there were 8,767 accidental deaths in Ontario resulting from toxic drug and alcohol use. Shockingly, the data from 2021 indicates that 2,886 Ontarians succumbed to consuming toxic substances, equivalent to eight deaths per day, a figure five times higher than those who died in traffic accidents in the province the same year. Furthermore, the number of deaths in 2021 nearly doubled from 2018.
The study also highlights a significant rise in deaths from at least two substances, as opposed to one or two occurring before the declaration of the pandemic in March 2020. Notably, most individuals were found to have a combination of opioids and stimulants in their systems, and the complexity of these cases has posed new challenges for both harm reduction and treatment efforts.
In addition to the rise in multi-substance deaths, the report underscores the disparities between northern and southern Ontario, with a threefold increase in toxic substance fatalities in the north compared to the south. Prominent factors contributing to this discrepancy include barriers to accessing addiction treatment in the north due to distance, as well as the greater prevalence of Indigenous populations in these communities.
As such, the report emphasizes the need for tailored, culturally appropriate treatment options that acknowledge the specific challenges faced by communities in the northern regions and suggests the need for better coordination among various support systems, including housing, social assistance, and primary care. The authors stress the importance of addressing the complexity of multi-substance addictions in treatment programs and highlight the need to track patient outcomes across the province.
With these concerning statistics, experts emphasize that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to address the crisis. Dr. Marko Erak, an emergency room physician at Humber River Hospital in Toronto, points out the multi-factorial nature of the issue, requiring comprehensive solutions ranging from political will to social change. The situation continues to worsen, signaling an urgent need for concerted efforts to address the escalating crisis.
Capturing the seriousness of the situation, the report paints a grim picture of the unfolding crisis, urging stakeholders and authorities to take immediate action to address the complex challenges posed by the surge in multi-substance overdose deaths.