Rates of opioid usage, overdoses and deaths have increased significantly throughout Canada since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Users get addicted to opioids as they provide a dramatic increase in high levels of positive reinforcement, increasing the chances of people continuing to use despite the negative effects. Possible factors that contributed to the rise of opioid usage during the pandemic include, social isolation, pandemic related stress, and mental illness. With that being said, positive reinforcement is what everyone is looking for and needs during this time. Unfortunately, a large number of people looked to opioids to help themselves. And as you can imagine this has a large negative impact on mental health.
Now let’s look at the stats of opioid addiction throughout Canada during the pandemic (Fig.1). According to the COVID-19 advisory for Ontario, in 2020 there were 2,426 opioid related deaths in Ontario. That’s a 60-64% increase in opioid related deaths compared to 1,517 deaths in 2019. The upward trend of opioid related deaths are continuing in January and Feburary 2021, according to preliminary data. With a total of 467 deaths this represents a 60% increase compared to the same time last year and a 71% increase in deaths during the same time in 2019.
As we shift our focus to B.C, the numbers of opioid addictions and mortality are at an all time high. The First Nations Health Authority released an article confirming that opioid deaths within the First Nations people have almost doubled between January and May 2020. There has been a 93% increase in opioid related deaths compared to the same time period in 2019.
Now we find ourselves thinking what are the solutions to this opioid crisis? First off, to potentially prevent people from falling into poor states of mental health, keeping the gyms open and acknowledging that physical fitness has a direct correlation to improving mental health is an amazing start. Keeping people safe while using, having a range of accessible treatment options, and supporting people on their healing journey are ways to prevent and potentially end this crisis.