A new study by the Ontario Drug Policy Research Network (ODPRN), shows opioid-related death rates for Ontario teens and young adults have tripled since 2014.
The report, led by the ODPRN at St. Michael’s Hospital, the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES), the Office of the Chief Coroner for Ontario and Public Health Ontario, analyzed provincial healthcare and demographic data from 2014 to 2021, and found a decrease in treatments for opioid use disorder within the ages of 15 to 24, while at the same time emergency department visits related to opioid use quadrupled. According to the report, there were 5,401 opioid-related emergency department visits for youth aged 15 to 24 from 2014 to 2021 – and a disturbing 752 deaths.
Opioid deaths among this age group surged during the first year of the pandemic to 169 deaths, up from 115 the year before, and almost 90 per cent of those who died had a healthcare encounter for a mental health diagnosis previously. In the week prior to death, one in four victims had a healthcare encounter.
The researchers also found that use of medications to treat opioid use disorder fell 50 per cent over those seven years and in-person residential treatment fell 73 per cent.
The report findings show that both teens and young adults who have an opioid use disorder as well as those who use drugs only occasionally are experiencing harm, which is primarily driven by fentanyl in the illicit drug supply.
Principal investigator Dr. Tara Gomes stated that the healthcare system needs to “adapt our available treatment, harm reduction, and mental health supports to ensure that they are designed to meet the unique needs and goals of our younger population.”
The Ontario Drug Policy Research Network (ODPRN) is a collaboration between researchers and drug policy decision-makers across Ontario with the goal of responding rapidly to policymakers’ needs to provide timely, relevant, and scientifically rigorous research. Read the full report on the OPDRN website.
For more information on the opioid crisis, the Centre for Innovation in Campus Mental Health has a podcast for students and staff on the topic of opioid overdose and harm reduction in post-secondary settings.
Read the CMHA Ontario guide on strategies for recognizing and responding to overdose.
To learn more about factors that impact addiction and problematic substance use, CMHA has an article covering the most consistent patterns.