Opioid deaths up, treatment down, for youth

A new study by the Ontario Drug Policy Research Network (ODPRN), shows opioid-related death rates for Ontario teens and young adults have tripled since 2014.


The report, led by the ODPRN at St. Michael’s Hospital, the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES), the Office of the Chief Coroner for Ontario and Public Health Ontario, analyzed provincial healthcare and demographic data from 2014 to 2021, and found a decrease in treatments for opioid use disorder within the ages of 15 to 24, while at the same time emergency department visits related to opioid use quadrupled. According to the report, there were 5,401 opioid-related emergency department visits for youth aged 15 to 24 from 2014 to 2021 – and a disturbing 752 deaths.


Opioid deaths among this age group surged during the first year of the pandemic to 169 deaths, up from 115 the year before, and almost 90 per cent of those who died had a healthcare encounter for a mental health diagnosis previously. In the week prior to death, one in four victims had a healthcare encounter.


The researchers also found that use of medications to treat opioid use disorder fell 50 per cent over those seven years and in-person residential treatment fell 73 per cent.


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