Area noticed sharp rise in opioid-related deaths, hospital visits throughout pandemic: MLHU – London


New findings from the Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU) show the region has seen a sharp rise in opioid-related deaths and hospital visits amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The findings were shared in the latest report from the MLHU’s Opioid Crises Working Group. That’s on the agenda for Thursday’s Health Department meeting.

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The report focused on trends observed between January 2020, about two months before a global pandemic was declared, and June 2021.

A chart showing the number of opioid-related emergency department visits and deaths recorded by the Middlesex-London Health Unit since January 2017.

Middlesex-London Health Unit /

“Prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, visits to opioid-related emergency departments and deaths had been increasing across Ontario and the Middlesex-London region,” the report said. “Unfortunately, these patterns of increased emergency room visits and deaths continued as the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020.”

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Between January 2020 and June 2021, the number of opioid-related emergency department visits in the Middlesex-London area tripled from 37 to 113.

The region’s increase has been far greater than that seen across the province, with Ontario increasing the number of visits from 757 to 1,500 between January 2020 and June 2021, a 98 percent increase.

The Middlesex-London area saw an average of eight deaths each month. The monthly average rose to 12 deaths between January and June 2021. According to Public Health Ontario’s interactive opioid tool, the 17 deaths reported in March 2021 is the highest monthly number on record for the region.

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Province-wide, Ontario saw a 45 percent increase between January 2020 and June 2021, with deaths rising from 152 to 220.

“The opioid crisis has continued to escalate as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, possibly exacerbated by challenges for customers to access many in-person services,” the report added.

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The report also included updates on several local interventions to contain the opioid crisis in London and Middlesex County.

MLHU says use of needle-syringe programs has increased steadily since 2019, growing from 1 million sterile syringes and needles distributed this year to 1.9 million in 2021.

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In 2021, 8,900 naloxone kits were distributed and more than 1,200 were used, almost double the number in 2019.

The report also noted a slight decrease in visits to the Carepoint consumption and treatment site on King Street, formerly known as a temporary overdose prevention site.

Operated by the Regional HIV/AIDS Connection, Carepoint aims to reduce the harm associated with drug use.

“During the pandemic, there has been a slight decrease in visits to the CTS site and an overall increase in opioid overdoses and referrals to services such as primary care, shelter, addiction services, mental health, access to food, wound care and testing,” the report said .

2019 saw more than 28,800 visits, 1,576 referrals, and 171 overdoses, while 2020 had just over 20,000 visits, 810 referrals, and 126 overdoses. In 2021, there were 14,013 visits, 13,932 referrals, and 237 overdoses.

While annual trends were not provided, the report shared selected program results for the London InterCommunity Health Centre’s Safer Supply programme, which provides a regulated supply of opioid medicines to adults who use criminal drugs and are at high risk of overdose and others harms.

More than 280 people are being assisted through the program, and the MLHU says it has resulted in a reduction in emergency room visits, injecting drug use, survival sex work, and criminal justice system involvement for those assisted by Safer Supply, as well to improved food and income security.

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dr Alex Summers, MLHU’s health officer, is expected to present the findings during Thursday night’s health committee meeting.

Click here to play the video: 'Safer Supply Program launched in Peterborough'

Safer Supply Program launched in Peterborough

Safer Supply Program launched in Peterborough – 11 May 2022

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