Opioid overdoses on decline in Ottawa

Six months after a spike in opioid overdoses raised alarms across the city, the numbers are down. But Ottawa Public Health says it is too soon to claim any victories in the opioid crisis.

According to preliminary public health statistics, drug-related emergency room visits have dipped from more than 40 a week in September to closer to 25 a week in late January. Monthly opioid overdose emergency room visits have steadily declined since last summer.

OPH and service agencies rallied last summer after rising rates of overdoses and deaths related to opioid use in the city and the introduction of fentanyl into the drug supply.

In late summer, a group called Overdose Prevention Ottawa set up a pop-up supervised injection site in a tent located in a Lowertown park in response to the opioid crisis.

OPH subsequently opened a small, supervised injection site in offices in the ByWard Market. The Shepherds of Good Hope set up another approved supervised injection site in a trailer next to its shelter on King Edward Avenue.

Meanwhile, naloxone became more available and widely used throughout the year.

But Jason Haug, program development officer with OPH, said it would be premature to link the naloxone availability and supervised injection site programs with the lower number of emergency room visits in recent weeks.

“While it does vary in some years, the number of emergency department visits appears to be somewhat lower in winter months.”

Other factors that could be affecting numbers likely include drug availability and whether the drug supply is contaminated — as it has been at times during the year.

According to community service agencies, some members of the drug-using community leave the city for warmer regions during the winter.

In 2017, the highest number of emergency room visits came during the summer.

“We will be watching closely to see what happens during the summer months,” he said.

There were eight overdose deaths in Ottawa last August. That number rose to 10 in September and went down to three in October, according to the most recent statistics on opioid overdose deaths from OPH.

There were about half as many opioid-related emergency department visits in December of last year in Ottawa as in October.

Ottawa’s increase in overdoses and deaths reflected the picture across the province. Ontario saw a spike in deaths to 1,053 in 2017 compared with 694 opioid-related deaths in 2016.

By Elizabeth Payne
Source: Ottawa Citizen