Opioid use down in region but overdose deaths on the rise

GUELPH – Opioid use is down from 2021 in the Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health (WDGPH) catchment area, but still up from pre-pandemic times, the board of health heard at its April 5 meeting.

And the mortality rate in the region is up slightly from 2021 to 2022, which is cause for concern.

“A downward trend is beginning to appear with the addition of preliminary 2022 data,” states the report by Michael Whyte and Sonja Vukovic, two health promotion specialists in the health analytics department.

“Although slight, 2022 estimates see the (use) rate decrease from 2021 by 11.5% to 59.3 per 100,000 residents,” which is still “below the provincial average from 2019 onwards.”

The mortality rate from opioid use, however, has increased slightly in that same time period, with 12.6 deaths per 100,000 residents in 2021 and 12.9 deaths per 100,000 residents in 2022.

Whyte said a lot of that has to do with an increase in fentanyl and drugs like methamphetamine, cocaine, benzodiazepines and ethanol being added to opioids.

“These substances were identified as direct contributors to death, contributing to over 80% of deaths between 2020 and 2022 in Ontario,” states Whyte’s report.

In the WDGPH region, “a similar representation of fentanyl and its analogues as a direct contributor to death is seen, with its presence found in 77% of deaths in 2022 so far.”

What’s showing up now is xylazine, a medication used by veterinarians for sedation, muscle relaxation and pain relief for animals.

 Xylazine “is not approved for use in humans and has been detected in 2 to 4% of opioid toxicity deaths in Ontario between Q4-2021 and Q3-2022,” the report states.

The health unit is part of the Wellington Guelph Drug Strategy, and together the partners are working on a way to identify and share information related to overdoses in the local community, including new patterns, tainted drug supply and counterfeit pharmaceuticals.

Not all drug users call police or attend the emergency department, where most of the local data is collected.

The health unit is also working with the Dufferin-Caledon Drug Strategy on prevention, harm reduction, treatment and recovery, and community safety strategies, Whyte said.

The board received the report for information.