TORONTO — Nearly 400 Ontarians died from opioid overdoses last summer, according to new provincial data.
Public Health Ontario has released updated statistics that indicate 388 people died from opioid-related causes from July to September 2018, down from 414 deaths during the same period in 2017.
In all, the statistics show 1,022 people died in Ontario over the first nine months of 2018. In 2017, a total of 1,261 people died from an opioid overdose — an increase from 2016, when 867 people died.
Bhutila Karpoche, NDP critic for Mental Health and Addictions, said the new data backs up what front-line workers have been saying, that the overdose problem isn't improving.
"Almost every day now we're hearing new statistics about opioid overdose deaths and it's really heartbreaking," she said. "We know that the crisis is escalating."
The latest figures are the most recent statistics available from Public Health Ontario.
They also show that there were 2,544 emergency department visits due to overdoses across the province last summer, down from 2,664 visits during that time frame a year before.
Karpoche said the statistics underscore the need for increased funding to the province's overdose prevention sites and to lift a cap on the number of sites put in place by Premier Doug Ford's government.
"We need to make sure that every community that is desperately in need of the sites gets one," she said.
Travis Kann, a spokesman for Health Minister Christine Elliott, said the government's new Consumption and Treatment Services model is saving lives by helping to prevent and reverse overdoses.
The government is providing funding for 15 sites and continues to accept and review additional applications for others, he said in a statement.
"Based on extensive consultation with experts, we are confident the model we have brought forward is the right approach to connect people struggling with addiction with the care they need and deserve," Kann said.
Meanwhile, a new report from the Ontario Drug Policy Research Network looked at 1,337 opioid-related deaths in the province from July 2017 to June 2018.
The study found that fentanyl directly contributed to the just over 71 per cent of the deaths and nearly three quarters of the people who overdosed were men.
Tara Gomes, a scientist at St. Michael's Hospital and principal investigator for the research network, said the study provides more in-depth findings than other previous work done on overdose deaths in Ontario.
"I think that gives us a better picture of some of the circumstances around the deaths and why intervention might not happen," she said.
The study found that nearly 60 per cent of the incidents occurred at a deceased person's home. The figures show the danger people face when using drugs alone without someone nearby with overdose reversing naloxone, she said.
"There is a big push right now, especially with the toxic drug supply that we have, people are being asked to not use drugs alone," she said. "That way, if an overdose happens someone can intervene."
Ontario's chief coroner Dirk Huyer said the data continues to show the severity of the overdose problem.
"The majority are younger people, 50 per cent between 24 and 44 years old, so there are many life years lost and preventable deaths," he said.
Huyer said the data also illustrates that this is not just a problem that affects the most marginalized in society.
"This is a widespread problem that occurs across many areas of the province and many different walks of life," he said.
Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press