Pandemic and the Opioid Crisis

The number of COVID cases and deaths tell only part of the tragic story that has been unfolding in our city since March.

In Toronto alone, 27 people died in July from opioid overdose. That’s almost one death per day and the highest monthly total ever recorded in Toronto. In the first five months of the pandemic, opioid overdose deaths increased by 85%. In British Columbia the situation is even worse, with a 200% increase compared to the same period last year.There appear to be three main reasons for these awful numbers which represent very real people with real lives and family and friends who are devastated. You may know some of them. Those who don’t can consider themselves fortunate.

With the pandemic disrupting the illegal drug supply chain, especially that coming from the U.S. with the border substantially closed, drug dealers have sought to add potency with deadly additives such as fentanyl.

Secondly, pandemic measures have increased isolation. People feeling alone may tend to start using opioids, or to use more of them. Finally, during the pandemic, fewer services and supports have been available to assist people needing harm reduction strategies.

There is no magic bullet for effectively dealing with addiction, and there is likely no strategy without both benefits and downsides. But there is mounting expert opinion that, to save lives, we need to put ideology aside and adopt best Public Health practices.

Addiction is a disease, not a moral failing.

Last month, the federal government announced funding to allow Toronto to operate two safer supply programs in the city, the first of their kind. One is located in Parkdale, the other in Regent Park.

Through this program, people who use drugs will be able to access pharmaceutical-grade opioids of a known quantity, quality, and strength from a health professional. This provides an alternative to street drugs laced with substances like fentanyl.

These programs also link users to a range of harm reduction and social programs.

Most importantly, they will save lives.