A new study from the Public Health Agency of Canada reveals that deaths from opioid overdoses have skyrocketed since lockdowns were implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The report confirms anecdotal claims that Canadians suffering from drug addiction, mental illness, and substance abuse problems have had a turn for the worse.
CBC reports that efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus through social distancing and lockdowns have successfully kept the country’s caseload low in comparison to other countries, but have caused the overall health of Canadians to worsen over the past eight months. More people are now turning towards drug, alcohol, and tobacco over physical exercise to cope with stress.
"This year's annual report describes the heavy toll that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on Canadian society, both directly and indirectly," said Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam on Wednesday in her announcement of the report. "These findings are more than just uncomfortable facts about our country during this pandemic. They're the lived realities of countless Canadians."
The report found that long-term care homes are leading in deaths because “pandemic preparedness did not extend into these settings,” noting that limited supplies of personal protective equipment, poor ventilation, and chronic understaffing contributed to the deaths of those in care homes.
The report also suggested as a possibility that pre-existing health disparities as a result of racism and low-wage work in high risk places may have played a role in the increase in the worsening health situation.
In BC alone, more than 100 drug-related deaths per month were reported for six consecutive months, with more than 175 deaths each month in May, June, and July. The number is up by more than double compared to the same period last year. A total of 1,202 people in BC died to drug overdoses this year so far compared to 983 in all of 2019.
According to the report, First Nations accounted for a disproportionate number of these deaths and are nearly six times more likely to die from substance abuse than other BC residents.
Preliminary numbers in Ontario confirm similar findings, with the number of confirmed and probable deaths up by almost 50 percent, from 148 deaths in January to 220 in May. Alberta also experienced a spike in substance abuse-related deaths between April to June 2020 with 302 deaths up from a high of 2011 deaths in the same period the year before.
CBC states that several clients of a supervised drug consumption site in Ottawa died from fatal overdoses while waiting in line to get in, prompting the site to remove its social distancing measures to enable addicts to get their fix under supervision.
In addition to the drug-related deaths, COVID-19 lockdowns have prompted a severe drop in happiness among Canadians, with as many as 70 percent of Canadians responding to a Statistics Canada survey that they were concerned about being unable to maintain their social ties. Another 54 percent of Canadians said they were concerned about their children’s loneliness or isolation.