Opioid-related deaths nearly tripled in Ontario from 2000-2015

A new study finds a steep rise in opioid-related deaths in Ontario among teens and young adults.

Researchers at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto say one out of six deaths among Ontarians aged 25 to 34 was related to opioids in 2015.

Meanwhile, they found one of nine deaths among those aged 15 to 24 was related to opioids. That rate nearly doubled since 2010, when it was one in 15 deaths.

Lead author and St. Michael’s scientist Tara Gomes says young people need more information about the dangers of illicit drug use and how they can get help if needed.

She says it’s time “to get past the stigma of drug use being among addicts” and be more open to providing access to the overdose-reversing drug naloxone in places young people may need it. That includes high schools, universities and music festivals.

According to the study, the overall rate of opioid-related deaths nearly tripled in Ontario from 2000 to 2015.

The study was published Thursday in the Journal of Addiction Medicine and also involved researchers from the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences.

We need to be more open to providing people with access to naloxone in places where youth and young adults might frequent, says scientist Tara Gomes.(Supplied)

It reviewed all deaths in Ontario in which prescribed or illicit opioids were determined to be a contributing factor between 2000 and 2015. There were 7,719 opioid-related deaths in that time.

In 2015, there were 733 opioid-related deaths, and 97,381 deaths overall.

Among all age groups, one in every 133 deaths in the province was linked to the potent narcotics in 2015, up from one in 170 deaths five years earlier.

The study concludes by saying more resources “are urgently needed” to reach the younger demographic.

Gomes said it’s clear “this is impacting all of our population.”

How to get better information to young people

“Naloxone is a way of reducing harm if somebody has overdosed so we need to be more open to providing people with access to this tool, even in environments like high schools, universities, music festivals — all of those different places where youth and young adults might frequent and might be using drugs,” said Gomes.

While those who die of opioid-related causes tend to be older, she said it’s time to consider the way a 16-year-old might want to access health services that are different from a 40-year-old.

“They might be intimidated to go there. They might not know who to ask to access those services. They may not even be comfortable setting up an appointment with their doctor to talk about it if their parents usually set them up with doctor appointments,” said Gomes, an epidemiologist at the downtown hospital.

“It’s a very different population and we need to think about how can we better get information to them so that they can promote their own health care.”

In 2015, there were 159 opioid-related deaths in Ontarians aged 25 to 34, and 71 opioid-related deaths in Ontarians aged 15 to 24.

Gomes notes that “youth and early adulthood is when a lot of people do start to experiment with drugs.”

And she says street drugs, even those that look like prescription drugs, are often counterfeit and may contain fentanyl, posing even greater danger to people who might be experimenting for the first time.

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