Almost 4,000 people in Canada died in opioid-related deaths in 2017, according to figures released Tuesday by the federal government.
That’s 11 people every day.
Some accidentally overdosed while treating their pain, some took an illegal drug like heroin or cocaine that was laced with powerful opioids like fentanyl, some just wanted to see what kind of recreational high they could get from an opioid but weren’t aware of the dangers.
However it happened, at the current mortality rate another person will die in just over two hours from now. And then another two hours after that. And then another and another, until the end of the day and the counter resets at zero and starts its climb to 11 again.
Canada’s opioid overdose rate is a national health crisis. And it’s getting worse. The number of deaths in 2017 was 34 per cent higher than 2016. That’s almost three more deaths every single day.
And while there are no statistics yet for 2018, there is good reason to believe this year will be just as bad.
It’s not that nothing is being done. Health Canada has taken measures to tighten the legal use of opioids, and it is planning new restrictions on how they are marketed.
The government has also stepped up measures to slow the smuggling of fentanyl from China and elsewhere, and police and prosecutors across the country have steadfastly gone after the gangs and dealers that sell illegal opioids or use them to lace their other offerings.
Ottawa’s embrace of harm reduction, such as safe injection sites for heroin users, has also been helpful.
But the bottom line is that the terrible oversupply of opioids in all forms has not decreased. And it isn’t about to do so, either.
The number of prescriptions for opioids in 2017 – 21,394,453 to be exact – was almost identical to the number in 2016. And fentanyl is increasingly available on the street.
Until Canada addresses this issue, by significantly cutting back on prescriptions and making criminals pay a higher cost for trading in illegal opioids, the deaths will keep coming.