High rates of opioid-related deaths across Canada have been a significant and longstanding national public health issue. In 2019, there were almost 4,000 opioid-related deaths across the country, of which over 94% were accidental. The COVID-19 pandemic emerged in the midst of this ongoing epidemic of opioid-related deaths, and resulted in the declaration of a state of emergency in Ontario on March 17, 2020 (Public Health Ontario, 2021).
Within Ontario, the pandemic response has consisted of waves of public health restrictions of varying severity to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. (Ornell, Moura, Scherer, et al., 2020). These restrictions have included physical distancing measures that resulted in reduced service levels for health and social services, such as pharmacies, outpatient clinics, and harm reduction sites, that provide care to people who use drugs (PWUD (Ornell, Moura, Scherer, et al., 2020).
Despite the intention to reduce the impact of COVID-19, there was also concern that these measures would lead to unintended harms. In November 2020, a preliminary report describing patterns in the circumstances surrounding opioid related deaths that occurred in Ontario during the first three months of the COVID-19 pandemic was released. The report noted a 38% increase in opioid-related deaths between March 16 and June 30, 2020 compared to the three months prior (Public Health Ontario, 2021).
This increase in drug-related deaths was thought to be driven by a combination of numerous factors, including an increasingly volatile unregulated drug supply, barriers to accessing harm reduction services and treatment, and physical distancing requirements leading to more people using drugs alone (Ornell, Moura, Scherer, et al., 2020). This raised concerns about the potential risks of overdose among people being provided supportive housing in these settings during the pandemic. Given the rapidly changing nature of the pandemic and the continued rise in opioid-related deaths (Ornell, Moura, Scherer, et al., 2020).
During the pandemic, there has been a statistically significant shift towards more opioid-related deaths occurring among males. Specifically, 70.8% of deaths in the pre-pandemic cohort were among males, rising to 76.3% of deaths in the pandemic cohort (Public Health Ontario, 2021). There was a small shift towards a higher proportion of opioid-related deaths among women aged 25 to 44 years (Public Health Ontario, 2021).
As younger women are both disproportionately experiencing the mental health impacts of job loss and increased childcare demands during the pandemic and encountering additional stigma when accessing healthcare services related to drug use, these findings suggest a need for enhanced programming specific to the needs of younger women across Ontario (e.g., proactive out-reach, increased social supports, discreet provision of harm reduction and treatment services).
(Ornell, Moura, Scherer, et al., 2020).The vast majority of confirmed opioid-related deaths in Ontario are accidental in nature, and this has increased significantly during the pandemic (92.6% vs. 95.7% in the pre-pandemic vs. pandemic cohorts). Overall, there were 1,893 confirmed opioid-related deaths that were determined to be accidental during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Approximately half of opioid-related deaths occurred among people who were unemployed at the time of their death (Public Health Ontario, 2021).
Psychotherapy and counselling for addictions at Brant Mental Health Solutions aims to:
- Increase people’s awareness of how substance use affects their lives, what puts them at risk of substance use and how to reduce substance use.
- Help people examine their thoughts and emotions and learn how these inner experiences affect how they behave, how they interact with others and how others see them.
- Help promote physical, emotional and spiritual wellness.
- Help people manage cravings and temptations to use substances.
- Help people with substance use problems meet their needs through assertive communication.
- Help people find ways to meet people and form relationships that aren’t focused on substance use (Canadian Psychological Association, 2015).
Brant Mental Health Solutions offers face-to-face and online therapy or substance and addiction issues.
If you or someone you know is experiencing addiction issues, psychotherapy can provide:
- The skills/tools and support you need to help you steer clear of substances,
- The skills needed to help you achieve life goals,
- The skills needed to strengthen relationships, and live a healthier, happy life (CPA, 2015).
Canadian Psychological Association, (2015) Psychology works fact sheet: Substance abuse. https://cpa.ca/docs/File/Publications/FactSheets/PsychologyWorksFactSheet_SubstanceAbuse.pdf
Ornell, F., Moura, H. F., Scherer, J. N., Pechansky, F., Kessler, F., & von Diemen, L., (2020). The COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on substance use: Implications for prevention and treatment. Psychiatry research, 289, 1130. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychres.2020.113096 Public Health Ontario, (2021). Interactive opioid tool: Opioid-related morbidity and mortality in ontario. https://www.publichealthontario.ca/en/data-and-analysis/substance-use/interactive-opioid-tool