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Opioid deaths fairly consistent year over year

Eight deaths in 2015, and four in the first half of 2016
20170529 Opioid ro
Opioid overdoses took the lives of eight people in Guelph and Wellington County in 2015, and four in the first half of 2016.

Like most metropolitan areas across Canada, Guelph has an opioid problem.

The narcotic medication, a potent painkiller, has much talked about lately as new statistics emerge about their widespread use and the often deadly consequences of long-term use.

Earlier this month, the Big City Mayors’ Caucus called for coordinated action by all levels of government to address the problem. The mayors want standardized overdose data, expanded treatment, and a national action plan to address the roots of opioid addiction.  

In 2015, the year for which the most complete data was collected, 2,000 Canadians died of opioid overdose, 711 of those in Ontario, and eight in the Guelph and Wellington County area.

Overdose most commonly occurs in long-term users who have become dependent on the drug, who have typically built up a tolerance and take higher doses to get the desired painkilling effect. Those higher doses can cause respiratory depression and death.

According to Public Health Ontario’s recently launched Interactive Opioid Tool, of the 711 opioid overdose deaths in Ontario in 2015, 214, or 30 per cent of the total number of overdoses, were from fentanyl, a stronger variety of the drug.

While most commonly prescribed as a painkiller, opioids are also a common street drug.

There were a combined eight opioid deaths in Guelph and Wellington County in 2015, in the area covered by Guelph-Wellington-Dufferin Public Health. The area has a population of just under 285,000. The death rate is 2.8 deaths per 100,000 residents.

The local deaths from opioids in 2015 is fewer than in previous years. There were 11 in each of 2012 and 2013, and 12 in 2008, according to the Public Health Ontario data.

The majority of the deaths tend to be in the 25 to 44 age group, with men dying at a slightly higher rate than women.

Partial data from 2016 shows there were four opioid deaths in the first half of the year.

The trend in overdoses and deaths has been shifting recently. Fentanyl deaths are steadily climbing, now outpacing hydromorphone and oxycodone.  Locally, fentanyl deaths rose sharply between 2014-15, accounting for four of the eight deaths in 2015.

Methadone, an opioid, also caused four deaths in 2015. Methadone deaths are also increasing. Back in 2008, there were six oxycodone deaths in the area.

Between 2005 and 2015, 2008 saw the highest number of opioid deaths at 12. The fewest was four in 2005. There have been a total of 91 deaths over the 11-year period.

While death from overdose has remained fairly constant over that period, the data shows greater fluctuations in the number of hospital emergency visits and hospitalizations related to opioid incidents. But both have been in decline in early 2016.

In 2015, there were 97 emergency visits related to opioids, and 43 hospitalizations. The emergency visit numbers were the highest annual number recorded since 2003. The highest number of hospitalizations was in 2013, with 54.

Ontario recently introduced updated guidelines on prescribing opioids for pain. The changes encourage doctors to avoid giving opioids as a first-line treatment to patients with chronic pain that is not related to cancer.

It is estimated that up to one million Canadians are long-term opioid users for chronic pain.


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Rob O'Flanagan

About the Author: Rob O'Flanagan

Rob O’Flanagan has been a newspaper reporter, photojournalist and columnist for over twenty years. He has won numerous Ontario Newspaper Awards and a National Newspaper Award.
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