Toronto Public Health (TPH) has released preliminary data from the Office of the Chief Coroner for Ontario highlighting a high number of confirmed opioid overdose deaths in Toronto in 2021 – a total of 511 fatalities. The preliminary 2021 data represents a 74 per cent increase from 2019 and a 273 per cent increase from 2015. A dramatic rise in opioid overdose deaths was also seen across the province and nationally in 2020. There were a total of 539 overdose deaths in Toronto in 2020.
In 2021, there were 6,005 non-fatal calls and 357 fatal calls attended by Toronto Paramedics Services for suspected opioid overdoses, a 65 percent increase overall compared to 2020. TPH issued a number of drug alerts on new or noteworthy drug trends in Toronto’s unregulated drug supply to inform people who use drugs, as well as those who support and provide care for them.
Ontario Ministry of Health data on monthly numbers of emergency department visits due to opioid poisoning in Toronto in the fall of 2021 were the highest seen since 2017. In 2021, there were 3,947 emergency department visits due to opioid poisoning.
Toronto’s Drug Checking Service has detected increasingly toxic and unpredictable contaminants in the unregulated drug supply in Toronto. TPH continues to be incredibly concerned about the impacts of the overdose crisis, remains committed in its work to implement the Toronto Overdose Action Plan and to address emerging issues, working with City and community partners. Key components of the Toronto Overdose Action Plan include the provision of harm reduction, education, and treatment services through The Works and critical action in the decriminalization of drugs for personal use.
In January, TPH submitted an exemption request to Health Canada to allow for the possession of drugs for personal use, recognizing that drug use is a health issue and not a criminal one. TPH continues to work with Health Canada, people who use drugs, community organizations, medical experts and the Toronto Police Service on a decriminalization model for Toronto. All drugs, including those that are legal, have the potential to cause harm. The best way to mitigate potential harms associated with drugs is to enhance education and regulation.
As the Office of the Chief Coroner for Ontario completes their investigations, it is expected that confirmed opioid overdose deaths in Toronto in 2021 will increase.
“Any life lost to a drug overdose is preventable and totally unacceptable. Every death from an overdose is a tragedy that leaves families, loved ones and friends devastated. No one is immune from this crisis. We cannot understate or shy away from the terrible impact of these deaths. Our City government has taken action with Toronto Public Health to address this as the healthcare matter that it most certainly is. We are doing all we can to implement harm reduction programs to help save lives – those measures have helped stop overdoses and have saved lives but, as we see from the data we have made public today, far too many people are still dying from overdoses. We remain ready to work with the Government of Canada and the Government of Ontario – this is principally the responsibility of the provincial healthcare system – to help implement much more robust and expanded healthcare and addiction treatment. We know from our health experts that this is what is needed and it is time that both governments work together with us to get this done to help save the lives of residents in Toronto and across our country.”
– Mayor John Tory
“The overdose crisis continues to be an urgent public health issue in Toronto. In keeping with our response to the COVID-19 pandemic, addressing the drug poisoning crisis of this size and scale requires resources and action from all levels of government. These are preventable losses and members of our community. I extend my sincere condolences to the families, friends and loved ones of these individuals that we’ve lost.”
– Dr. Eileen de Villa, Medical Officer of Health
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