The number of Canadians hospitalized because of opioid poisoning is growing dramatically, according to new numbers published by the Canadian Institute for Health Information.
But even with new data, tracking the breadth of the crisis in Canada continues to run up against problems.
Between April 1, 2016 and March 31, 2017, an average of 16 Canadians were hospitalized each day because of opioids, a jump from an average of 13 people every day two years ago.
And more than half of all cases were considered accidental, says CIHI.
The CIHI numbers don’t include people who went to an emergency department but were not admitted, or those who died before making it to a hospital.
“We see higher rates of hospitalization in the West and in the North, but while the rates are lower in Eastern Canada they are increasing, and that seems to line up with stories we’re hearing about cities starting to encounter opioid-related issues in Eastern Canada,” said Brent Diverty, the institute’s vice-president of programs.
Diverty said the reason the numbers continue to grow comes down to a few main factors: that opioids are still readily prescribed in large quantities, that people easily become dependent on prescribed opioids and that illegal sources are easily available.
The report shows young people aged 15 to 24 and adults aged 25 to 44 had the fastest growing rates.
Diverty said accidental rates historically were higher among older people, who tend to take more medications.
“This has the potential to be people taking opioids recreationally and not appreciating exactly what they’re taking,” he said.
Jump in 3 years
While the opioid crisis has been building for several years, the numbers suggest a dramatic recent increase.
“Over the last 10 years, across the country, [we’ve seen] a 53 per cent increase in hospitalizations for opioid poisonings, but almost half of that increase was in the last three years,” he said.
For the first time, CIHI was able to include municipal data that shows cities like Saskatoon, Regina and Victoria had some of the highest rates of hospitalization, exceeding those of larger cities such as Montreal and Toronto.
“I think it’s worth giving some thought to why that might be the case. Perhaps there’s some unique things going in the population or with prescribing, but it also may be about the availability and accessibility of supports.”