The Opioid Overdose Crisis in Canada
Why Does it Matter?
The abuse of opioids – a group of drugs that includes heroin and prescription painkillers – is having a devastating impact on Canadians and what better day to bring awareness to this than on International Overdose Awareness Day.
August 31st is a day where communities across the globe raise awareness of drug overdose. It is also a day where families come together to grieve the loss of a loved one or to remember a family or friend who has suffered permanent injury due to a drug overdose. In existence for more than 15 years, IOAD is a day to educate the public about this epidemic, encourage recovery from addiction and prevent drug overdose in Canadians.
What are Opioids?
Opioids are natural or synthetic substances used to help relieve pain. Common opioids include oxycodone, morphine, hydromorphone, and fentanyl. While they can be an effective part of pain management for some medically supervised patients, opioid-related harms such as addiction and overdose present a significant challenge in Canadians and Canadian Health Authorities.
In 2018, 1,450 Ontarians died from opioid-related causes, and an alarming 94% of opioid overdose deaths happen by accident. Additionally, young Canadians aged 15 to 24 are the fastest growing population requiring hospitalization from opioid overdose. This is an unprecedented overdose crisis that Canadian health authorities are grappling with now more than ever.
- A few grains of salt worthy fentanyl are enough to kill you
- Smaller communities in Canada have seen double the rate of individuals being hospitalized for overdose
- Men aged 30 to 39 make up the biggest group of deaths across the country but the mortality gap between men and women is shrinking
- First Nations people are five times more likely to have an overdose than other Canadians, and they are three times more likely to die from one.
Legal vs. Illegal Opiods
Legal opioids are prescribed by a health care professional most often to treat pain from conditions such as injuries, surgery, dental procedures, or long-term chronic pain.
Illegal opioids are any opioids that are made, shared, or sold illegally. Illegal opioids include:
- street drugs from a drug dealer
- opioids given to you by someone who is not your health care provider
- opioids that are not prescribed to you but are taken from someone else
Signs and Symptoms of An Opioid Drug Overdose
The symptoms of an overdose vary from person to person and often depend on the substance that is being abused. Some of the common signs of a person that has overdosed are:
- blue lips or nails
- exceedingly small pupils
- cold and clammy skin
- dizziness and confusion
- extreme drowsiness
- choking, gurgling, or snoring sounds
- slow, weak or no breathing
- inability to wake up, even when shaken or shouted at
What Should You Do If Someone You Know Has Overdosed?
- Call 911
- Try to wake the person: shout their name, pinch the back of their arm. Check if they are breathing.
- Provide rescue breathing: check the airway, tilt the head and lift the chin to open the airway.
- Give naloxone.
- Wait three to five minutes, continuing to give breaths.
- If they are not responding, give a second dose of naloxone
- If you can, wait with the person until the ambulance arrives. If you have taken drugs or have some on you, the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act could protect you.
- If you must leave, put the person in the recovery position. Leave a note about what the person took and make sure that paramedics can get to the person (e.g., door is unlocked).
Break the Silence
International Overdose Awareness Day gives us and people around the world a chance to talk openly about the realities of addiction and overdose. In order to bring change, we have to talk about this; we have to get down to the sad facts; we have to break the stigma; we have to remove the shame; we have to find solutions.
If you or anyone you know is struggling with an opioid addiction, break the barrier and speak with one of our doctors today. Getting help can mean complete abstinence or seeking drug addiction counselling or getting support from a loved one.
Find out what resources are available to you by starting the conversation with our online doctors.
Disclaimer: The contents herein are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.