Canada’s public health agency announced on Monday that at least 1,460 people died of opioid overdoses during the first half of 2017 and that number is expected to rise to at least 4,000 by the end of this year if current trends continue.
“Tragically, the data released today indicate that the crisis continues to worsen, despite the efforts from all levels of government and partners to reverse the trend,” the Public Health Agency of Canada said in a press release on its newly updated overdose death database.
There were 2,861 opioid-related deaths in 2016, the first year the federal government pieced together national overdose death data, which is gathered by each province and territory and has until recently been inconsistent and out of date.
The opioid overdose crisis across the U.S. and Canada is predominantly linked to the proliferation of bootleg fentanyl and its deadlier cousin carfentanil in the illicit drug supply. From January to July of this year, the agency reported 74 percent of the opioid-related deaths in Canada involved fentanyl or an analogue of the drug, a rate significantly higher than the 53 percent of deaths linked to fentanyl in 2016.
The Public Health Agency of Canada did not immediately make someone available for an interview with VICE News.
The new data bolsters the ongoing trend of especially high opioid overdose death rates in Canada’s Western provinces such as British Columbia and Alberta, which have seen more than 1,100 and 482 such deaths respectively this year so far.
Earlier this month, Ontario’s provincial health minister and coroner announced there were 336 opioid overdose deaths from May to July of this year, a 68 percent spike in deaths compared to the year before. Canada’s most populous province also saw emergency room visits jump 29 percent over the last year.
In response to the worsening overdose crisis, the federal health ministry has made it easier for public health agencies to open supervised drug consumption sites, and 29 applications for those sites have been approved across the country. Two more supervised drug consumption site applications are pending for Vancouver and Ottawa.
In its statement, the public health agency said it was working on a “special study to better understand the context of opioid-related deaths.” However, harm reduction workers and drug policy advocates have for years been urging the federal and other levels of government to pursue solutions such as providing users with a clean drug supply — similar to the prescription heroin program operating in Vancouver — and supporting measures such as the decriminalization of all drugs.