Local opioid-related deaths more than double during pandemic

Health Unit launches naloxone campaign in response to growing loss of life


A startling increase in opioid-related deaths in the North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit area during COVID-19 has prompted a number of responses in how to address the ongoing crisis in the age of social distancing.

At least 44 people in the region suffered an opioid-related death over the first 11 months of 2020 (that could increase as some investigations are still ongoing). That was more than double the individuals the community lost to opioids-related deaths in all of 2019, when 19 people passed away. There were 14 opioid-related deaths in the region in 2018 and nine in 2017.

“What we do know is that COVID-19 has taken a significant toll on the most vulnerable populations, including those with addictions and we’ve seen that with drug overdoses, and we’ve seen that with the increased number of deaths,” says Dr. Jim Chirico, Medical Officer of Health for the district. “It is a serious issue. We have plans in place to look at the potential for [an Overdose Prevention Site] to prevent overdoses, and we’re working with community partners so that we can address the situation.”

A Public Health Ontario report examining opioid-related deaths in the province over the first 3.5 months of the pandemic found less deaths were occurring in public indoor spaces, more were as a result of inhaling substances, slightly more were instances where people were using drugs alone and during these deaths there were fewer resuscitation attempts or administration of naloxone.

The same report noted that in the NBPSHU, there were 5.4 deaths per 100,000 people in the 3.5 months prior to COVID-19, while the number of lives lost increased to 13.2 per 100,000 in the first 3.5 months of the pandemic. The Health Unit is still trying to gather info on which factors have brought about an increase in local overdose deaths during the pandemic.

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