A new report by Ontario’s COVID-19 advisory science table makes several calls to action to address the opioid emergency that continues to worsen as the pandemic wears on.
In the science table’s latest brief, The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Opioid-Related Harm in Ontario, it says emergency calls to suspected opioid overdoses are up 57 per cent and opioid overdose deaths have increased by 60 per cent in the province since the pandemic began in March 2020.
The 14-page brief outlines considerations for ensuring opioid agonist therapy access, options, and continuity; incorporating harm reduction services and access to health care services into supportive housing and shelter settings; facilitating adaptive harm reduction strategies; and integrating COVID-19 safety protocols, training and resources into addiction and harm reduction services.
The advisory group noted several subpopulations are disproportionately impacted by the ongoing opioid crisis, including people living in rural and northern communities, people unable to afford basic resources and services, individuals experiencing homelessness or housing instability, men and individuals aged 20-49, neighbourhoods with higher ethno-cultural diversity and people in BIPOC communities, and people experiencing incarceration or who have been recently released from prison.
Strategies outlined in the report aimed to address opioid-related harm during COVID-19 include:
- Facilitating continuity and access to addiction and harm reduction services through use of telemedicine/virtual care and incorporating these services into high-risk settings
- Addressing the volatile drug supply through adaptive harm reduction strategies
- Promoting vaccination and supporting the use of COVID-19 safety protocols
The science table says the implementation of these strategies will require ongoing collaboration between people who use drugs, service providers, researchers and government to ensure they’re implemented safely, equitably and effectively.
Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), Ontario Division commends the science table for bringing attention to this worsening crisis and recommending strategies to overcome it. CMHA Ontario has been outspoken on addressing the opioid epidemic previously. To learn more, see the CMHA branch statement on safer opioid supply, this July statement supporting government investment to fight opioids, CMHA Ontario’s 2021 pre-budget submission, and this naloxone toolkit.