How to stop overdoses? Prevent them to begin with

published on January 11, 2018 by Lindsey Richardson and Jenna van Draanen in The Conversation

The Public Health Agency of Canada recently released projections that 2017 will have seen a total of more than 4,000 opioid-related deaths.

This is a catastrophic increase from the 2,861 deaths across Canada in 2016. And it confirms, tragically, that the public health emergency of fatal and non-fatal overdose and drug poisoning continues to take an unprecedented human toll across Canada.

Drug deaths are dramatically outpacing anything we have seen before. For example, British Columbia, the province hardest hit by the crisis, recorded 1,208 lives lost from January to the end of October 2017. This is an increase of 77 per cent over the same period in 2016, and 200 per cent over 2015.

And British Columbia is not alone in these dramatic increases: Data from Ontario report 336 opioid-related deaths from May to July this year, a 68 per cent increase over the same period in 2016.

Laudable responses have rightly focused on immediate health outcomes such as reversing overdoses amid a drug supply contaminated with fentanyl or fentanyl analogues such as carfentanil.

To build a truly effective response to the crisis, however, Canada must also address the socio-economic factors linked to overdose risk — including homelessness and housing insecurity, insufficient support following release from prison, severe poverty and low educational attainment.

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