First responders in Vancouver attend to an overdose patient after three doses of naloxone fail to revive him. Every day there are victims of overdoses related to the opioid crisis in Canada, a crisis which is on the rise again during the COVID-19 lockdowns (CBC)

Overdose deaths spike amid coronavirus situation

COVID isolation and restrictions suspected as contributing factors

While most attention from politicians and media worldwide has been focussing on the COVID-19 situation, another health and societal crisis has been growing.

This involves use and deaths from opioids and fentanyl.

In west coast British Columbia there were more overdose deaths in the single month of May than from  the virus up to the beginning of this week.

As of the June 13th there were 168 virus deaths, but 554 overdose deaths in the province with 170 in May alone. Since 2016 there have been some 5,000 deaths from overdoses.  Deaths had been decreasing in 2019 but have increased since the pandemic

Most of those deaths in May involved fentanyl and authorities say the opiod drugs on the street now are highly toxic with a level of fentanyl concentration higher than ever seen previously.

Police block an alley as paramedics respond to an overdose victim in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside in May. More than 82 per cent of overdose deaths last month in B.C. involved fentanyl. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Officials speculated that measures to prevent spread of the virus had lead to concerns that the normal supply line  of illegal drugs would dry up leading to other and more toxic sources. The virus has also put a severe strain on access to supervised drug sites, overdose prevention sites, and drug verification sites. The latter is where users could leave a small sample to have it analysed for toxicity levels.

In neighbouring Alberta in the three months from March to May, opioid related calls to Emergency services  more than doubled compared to last year, from 257 to 550.

Meanwhile to the east, a surge in overdose deaths in the capital of the prairie province of Manitoba is also increasing concerns. At least 14 have died in the past few months, some apparently suicides.Officials are also speculating that isolation due to COVID-19  may be behind the increase.

Although total death numbers aren’t available, calls to the 911 emergency line for crystal meth and opioid poisonings  increased 66 per cent in April and May over the same period last year.

In Ontario, with Canada’s most populous urban centres, official are also seeing an epidemic of overdose deaths. Officials report an approximate 25 per cent increase in deaths from March to May this year compared to the same three month period last year.

Various centres dealing with drug use are also being restricted due to COVID-19 with things like social distance requirements reducing the number of people that can access services by about half.

Dr. Jennifer Brasch is a psychiatrist who works with addicted patients in Hamilton. She says various isolation restrictions related to the coronavirus has increased stress on addicts who may be pushed to use more substances to cope ( CBC News)

This is in addition to other situations associated with the virus health emergency restrictions.

Dr. Jennifer Brasch leads addiction psychiatry at St. Joseph’s Healthcare in Hamilton, Ontario. Quoted in the CBC she said, “It’s very stressful to be socially isolated and fearful of catching COVID-19, When people are stressed and anxious, they may use more substances in order to cope.”

Over 15,000 opioid related deaths have occurred in Canada between January 2016 and December 2019 according to federal data

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