Opioids responsible for one in every four deaths among young adults

The staggering cost of illicit drug toxicity in Canada, especially among young people, is laid bare in new research published Monday that highlights rapid increases in opioid-related deaths with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The research finds that not only did premature deaths due to opioid overdoses double across the country between 2019 and 2021, but also that opioids were responsible for one in every four deaths among young adults between the ages of 20 and 39 during this time.
“These findings show the stark and devastating impacts of a highly unpredictable illicit drug supply,” said Tara Gomes, a scientist at Unity Health Toronto and senior author of the study, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

The drug-toxicity crisis has killed more than 40,000 people in the past eight years nationwide, with the Public Health Agency of Canada estimating that an average of 22 people died of opioid overdoses each day in 2023.


Gomes and her colleagues found that during the study period, deaths attributed to opioids more than doubled, from 3,007 in 2019 to 6,222 in 2021, and that one in four of all deaths in people ages 20-39 were related to opioids. That increases to one in three deaths for people in their 30s.


“That, to me, is staggering. Think about the degree to which these accidental deaths, these preventable deaths, are shortening people’s lives,” Gomes said.


She added the findings serve as a call for all levels of government to co-ordinate efforts to invest in a variety of evidence-based treatment and harm-reduction services that are adaptable to the communities they serve.


The researchers also found that the burden of premature death from opioid overdoses was felt most acutely in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, where deaths between 2019 and 2021 rose 387 per cent and 195 per cent, respectively. The authors speculate this could be due to a drug supply that became more volatile during the pandemic without responsive increases in access to community-based treatment and harm-reduction services.


To read more and get a full view of the study please follow the link below.

Infectious Disease Physician

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