'Devastating': Pro-lockdown Toronto chief medical officer reacts to city's 523 opioid deaths

Dr. Eileen de Villa, who advocated for lockdowns through the pandemic, called the numbers a 'human tragedy that demands we respond with empathy, care and compassion.'

'Devastating': Pro-lockdown Toronto chief medical officer reacts to city's 523 opioid deaths
The Canadian Press / Christopher Katsarov
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Toronto Public Health released data on Wednesday showing that 523 opioid toxicity deaths were reported last year, an increase over 2022.

The city's chief medical officer, the retiring Dr. Eileen de Villa, called the figures “devastating,” The Canadian Press reported.

De Villa, who advocated for lockdowns through the pandemic, called the numbers a “human tragedy that demands we respond with empathy, care and compassion.”

According to Think Global Health, “Preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that there was a pandemic-led opioid overdose surge in the United States. Overdose deaths from all drugs—not just opioids—spiked sharply upwards immediately following lockdowns in the United States in March of 2020.”

Similar trends could be seen in Canada, with 2021 seeing a record-setting 591 overdoses in Toronto.

A report by the CBC from October 2020 also found that opioid deaths had “skyrocketed” due to pandemic restrictions that de Villa advocated for.

The trend was seen nationwide: “In B.C., there were more than 100 ‘illicit drug toxicity’ deaths per month for six consecutive months from March to August 2020, and more than 175 such deaths each month in May, June and July, according to data compiled by PHAC,” CBC said.

Alberta also saw a huge increase in opioid-related deaths from April to June 2020, “302 deaths, up from the previously recorded high of 211 deaths in a three-month period in 2018.”

Toronto's 2023 figures found that of the 426 accidental deaths, about half of the individuals lived in private dwellings, and over a third were at home when they died.

Toronto Public Health's request for drug decriminalization, part of a broader strategy to destigmatize drug use, was rejected by Ottawa earlier this month. The rejection came after the B.C. government requested the Trudeau Liberals end a pilot program that allowed for decriminalized drug use in public spaces.

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