A total of 34 people died of suspected opioid overdoses in December, the worst loss of life recorded in a single month since Toronto Public Health began monitoring the opioid crisis.
So far in January, preliminary data shows paramedics have been called to 30 fatal suspected opioid overdoses.
Medical officer of health Dr. Eileen de Villa says these stats show “opioid poisoning crisis has intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“We continue to lose too many lives to these preventable deaths … They all deserved the chance and the support to see where else life might have taken them,” said Dr. de Villa in a statement. “More and urgent action is needed by all levels of government to address this complex issue.”
Fatal suspected opioid overdose calls to paramedics were 90 per cent higher in 2020 over the previous year, however data from the Chief Coroner for Ontario shows Toronto paramedics attended double the number of opioid-related deaths in 2020 than they did in 2019.
There were 341 opioid toxicity deaths in Toronto from Jan. 1 to Sept. 30 that have been confirmed by the Chief Coroner. The number is likely to increase as more investigations are completed.
A release from the city says Toronto’s unregulated drug supply “remains unpredictable and toxic.”
Public Health has recently opened a Urgent Public Health Needs Site (UPHNS) at the shelter at 65 Dundas Street East which ensures someone is available to provide medical support if a person overdoses and links them to other health and social services.
Another UPHNS will be opening at 185 Yorkland Boulevard in February.
TPH is also re-opening another injection booth at the supervised consumption site at The Works on Victoria Street.
Board of Health Chair Joe Cressy said in a release, “This tragic record further proves what we already know: that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the already deadly overdose crisis in Toronto.”
He says these statistics make it “clearer than ever that additional actions must be taken to provide the supports that people who use drugs need, and to save lives in our city.”
Earlier this week, the head of the national chiefs of police association said the scourge of overdose deaths has underscored the need for Canada to decriminalize simple possession of hard drugs.