Canada's chief public health officer says the need to increase access to a "safer supply" of opioids is being reviewed with provinces and territories — a move encouraged by a number of public health experts.
The comments from Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada's chief public health officer, come as the Public Health Agency of Canada releases data that says in the first half of 2018, opioid drugs were a factor in more than 2,000 deaths. That's a higher death rate than the previous year.
Tam says a toxic drug supply is causing a key part of this epidemic.
Fentanyl, a drug more powerful than heroin, is often mixed into opioids sold on the street, meaning users can't know the potency of the drugs they take.
Tam said the country must "double down" on its efforts to address the opioid crisis, stressing the need for escalated treatment.
The health agency found more than 9,000 lives were lost in Canada between January 2016 and June 2018, suggesting the country has not been able to turn the tide on the crisis.
Data released by the Canadian Institute for Health Information on Wednesday showed a 27 per cent increase in hospitalizations due to opioid-related poisonings over the past five years. In 2017, hospitalization rates were 2.5 times higher in smaller communities with a population of between 50,000 and 100,000, compared to Canada's largest cities.
The Canadian reports come as the U.S. government officials reported a bigger share of overdose deaths in that country are being caused by methamphetamine.
The number of fatal overdoses involving meth more than tripled between 2011 and 2016, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Wednesday. The percentage of overdose deaths involving meth grew from less than 5 per cent to nearly 11 per cent.
Meth is not the main killer among illicit drugs in the U.S. Fentanyl was involved in the highest percentage of fatal overdoses in 2016, followed by heroin and cocaine. Meth was fourth.
But it was only eighth as recently as 2012.
It's not clear why meth overdoses are growing, but some people who had been abusing opioid pain pills or shooting heroin have turned to meth, a stimulant, to offset the downer effects of those drugs, said Theodore Cicero, a Washington University researcher who has studied the rise of meth use among people who use opioid drugs.
The CDC report looked at death certificates on 64,000 U.S. overdose deaths in 2016 and compared them with the five previous years. Many of the people who died had used multiple drugs — fentanyl was often in the mix.