Opioid-related deaths across Canada have been an ongoing public health crisis for over a decade. Between January and March 2020 alone, there were 1,018 opioid-related deaths recorded in Canada, the majority of which were accidental. In the midst of this ongoing crisis, a state of emergency was declared on March 17, 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Within Ontario, the first wave of the pandemic was managed with public health restrictions to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, which included physical distancing measures that resulted in reduced capacity for pharmacies, outpatient clinics, and harm reduction sites providing care to people who use drugs. Despite the intention to reduce the impact of COVID-19, there is concern that these measures could lead to unintended harms.
This report describes the preliminary patterns in circumstances surrounding opioid-related deaths in Ontario during COVID-19. An understanding of these circumstances is urgently needed to inform interventions and policies to prevent further opioid-related mortality in the midst of this pandemic.
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