A former fentanyl user named Christie poses for a portrait in Toronto on Thursday, March 30, 2017. At 13, Christie was smoking pot daily. In time, she began dabbling in cocaine. But it wasn’t until she was prescribed Percocet by her dentist following wisdom teeth removal in her early 20s that she began the long spiral downwards into a full-fledged opioid addiction that took over her life. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Opioid crisis worst in western Canada: data

Opioid crisis worst in western Canada: data

OTTAWA — New data suggests almost 2,500 Canadians died from opioid-related overdoses in 2016 — deaths that federal Health Minister Jane Philpott says were preventable.

The data released Tuesday by the Public Health Agency of Canada found an estimated 2,458 people died of opioid overdoses, a national death rate of 8.8 per 100,000 people.

And the agency found western Canada is feeling the brunt of the impact, with opioid-related death rates of over 10.0 per 100,000 population in Yukon, Northwest Territories, British Columbia and Alberta.

“The data gives us confirmation of the severity of the problem,” Philpott said in an interview.

“These are preventable deaths.”

Information from Quebec was not available but Philpott said discussions with provincial officials are ongoing.

“We hope to eventually be able to fill out all of the details of the data but the systems for data collection are different,” she said. We will hopefully work toward that in the months to come.”

The figures remain the best possible estimate right now, Philpott added.

“This remains a very serious public health threat,” she said.

“We need all players to participate in the response … We are very, very active on this file but we would certainly be encouraging provincial and territorial governments to be diligent, to be very active in providing a comprehensive response.”

The numbers were released by the agency on behalf of a federal, provincial and territorial advisory committee on the opioid overdose epidemic.

The committee, created in December 2016, is chaired by Canada’s interim chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, and Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief public health officer.

Health Canada says opioids affect the part of the brain that controls breathing and taking too many pills can cause breathing to slow, contributing to unconsciousness and death.

Elaine Hyshka, an assistant professor at the University of Alberta School of Public Health, said it’s positive to see Canada moving closer to compiling a national picture of the crisis.

“It is encouraging that we are seeing some progress but ultimately this is a national epidemic,” she said.

At some point, Canada must do better, Hyshka added, noting that this country falls far short of the U.S. when it comes to overdose death reporting.

“Our surveillance systems are a decade behind where they should be but if we are going to take this seriously as a public health crisis … then we need the numbers and we need the counts to show this,” she said.

“If that requires an injection of resources, if that requires compelling the provinces and territories to report data more quickly and figuring out different strategies to do that, that should all be on the table because we can’t respond to this effectively without understanding it.”

The process of compiling the new figures revealed challenges in public health infrastructure and the national agency’s authority to gather provincial and territorial data, Philpott said.

“We are working to remedy the challenges that have been identified.”

Any loss of life as result of an opioid overdose is a needless, preventable tragedy, Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins said in a statement.

“Through increased partnership, enhanced surveillance and data collection, modernizing prescribing and dispensing practices, and connecting patients with high quality, holistic care we will continue to take co-ordinated action to combat the opioid crisis in Ontario and across the country,” he said.

—Follow @kkirkup on Twitter

Kristy Kirkup, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

Influenza claims two more in Central Alberta

Since flu season began four months ago 16 have died in Central Alberta

Relatives of murdered family critical of killers’ sentences

Open letter to sentencing judge criticizes ruling allowing killers to apply for parole in 25 years

City rolling out Green Carts

Green Carts used for organics, such as yard waste, food scraps and pet waste

Updated: Red Deer gets WHL Bantam Draft and Awards Banquet

WHL will holds its draft and awards ceremony in Red Deer for next three years

How to keep local news visible in your Facebook feed

Facebook has changed the news feed to emphasize personal connections. You might see less news.

Ottawa vows legislation allowing firms to settle corporate corruption

OTTAWA — The Canadian government is vowing to introduce legislation for corporate… Continue reading

‘Lost Tapes’ series examines Malcolm X through rare footage

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Malcolm X was reviled and adored during his lifetime… Continue reading

Woe, Canada: Germany ousts Canada 4-3

GANGNEUNG, Korea, Republic Of — Germany has knocked Canada out of the… Continue reading

Twenty years later, figure skating’s most famous backflip remains amazing (and illegal)

Figure skating involves spins, jumps, twizzles and a whole host of other… Continue reading

You don’t need to chop like a TV chef to get the job done

Standing in line at the emergency room, makeshift bandage around my finger,… Continue reading

Seychelles swaps debt for groundbreaking marine protection

CURIEUSE ISLAND, Seychelles — With deep blue waters, white sand beaches and… Continue reading

Trump endorses raising minimum age to 21 for more weapons

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump endorsed stricter gun-control measures Thursday, including raising… Continue reading

Most Read

Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month