As new COVID-19 cases in Toronto continue to drop, the number of opioid overdose deaths continues to rise

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As the number of new daily COVID-19 cases in Toronto continues to decline, the death toll from another ongoing public health crisis – opioid overdoses – continues to increase.In April, 25 Toronto paramedics reported 25 suspected fatal opioid overdose calls, marking the highest number of suspected deaths since September 2017. In May, another 25 suspected deaths were reported.

Lawyers warn that the likely total for June, which won’t be released by the city until next month, could be just as high.

“The past few months have marked the worst period of the current overdose crisis,” said Jason Altenberg, CEO of the South Riverdale Community Health Center, which provides harm reduction services in east Toronto.

And, he added, there is a clear link between the pandemic and this surge in overdose deaths.

Public health messages to combat COVID-19 have called on residents to stay away, which would likely encourage more people to use drugs alone – with no nearby support in case of an overdose – while services harm reduction centers were closing or downsizing, said Altenberg.

He added that the drug supply itself has become “more powerful, more toxic, more unpredictable” as global supply chains collapse, leading to potentially lethal combinations of drugs circulating in the community.

“The street drug supply is not only extremely toxic, but more toxic than before the pandemic,” said Altenberg.

Drug users are extremely frightened

Akia Munga, a Toronto-based harm reduction worker who uses her pronouns, said that people were “extremely scared” because the combination of a contaminated supply and increased solo drug use was so deadly .

“People use off-site. People use in the alleys. People use it in the park, ”they said. “People use in accessible and comfortable places at the time – but we are not there. ”

A woman Munga knew personally, who generally used a safe drug site in the east of the country where staff monitored her drug use to avoid an overdose, had died in the past two months. Whenever this happens, they added, it is “tragic”.

Ontario’s cap on overdose prevention sites and the lack of movement to provide safe government-supplied drugs are also challenges when it comes to keeping people alive, said Munga, who is also an addict.

WATCH: Deaths from opioids increased during pandemic

There was an unprecedented increase in opioid overdoses in Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic, with an increase of 25% in Ontario and 39% in British Columbia. 1:59

It’s also a problem beyond Toronto.

According to the Ontario Coroner’s office, there has been an approximately 25% increase in overdose deaths from March to May 2020 compared to the same three-month period last year.

In British Columbia, 170 people died from an overdose in May, a new grim record for the province.

No end in sight for the health crisis – the COVID-19 pandemic and opioid overdoses – city officials say more needs to be done before death toll rises even higher in months to come up.

A recent report from Toronto’s medical officer of health, Dr. Eileen de Villa, later approved by the city’s health council, calls on the provincial government to help boost harm reduction programs, including putting in place secure supply sites that would directly supply drugs.

De Villa is also calling on the federal government to increase funding for a “range of safer procurement initiatives.”

With the number of overdose deaths increasing this year, Akia Munga, a harm reduction worker in Toronto, said people were “extremely frightened” because the combination of a contaminated supply and increased consumption of solo drugs is so deadly. (Lauren Pelley / CBC News)

Province Does Not Consider Safe Supply Sites

A spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of Health told CBC Toronto that the province does not “currently” plan to open safe supply sites, but will continue to fund the 16 consumer sites that already exist .

Coun. Joe Cressy, Chair of the Toronto Board of Health, said that conversations are now “fairly advanced” between local organizations and the federal government regarding the opening of sites for safe supply, although no official funding announcement has been made. has been published.

Federal health officials also did not provide comments in response to CBC Toronto inquiries by posting time.

“This is a serious public health emergency right now, and our policymakers seem to ignore it,” said Cressy.

“Frankly, the other levels of government are focused entirely on COVIDs – to the detriment of the opioid crisis. “

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