‘A lot of grief, loss and trauma’: Drug consumption sites grapple with record number of overdoses

From the Toronto Star article

Toronto’s supervised drug consumption sites are seeing a record number of overdoses, while the city’s paramedics responded to more fatal overdoses in 2021 than any other recorded year — all signs that experts say point to a worsening opioid crisis both in Ontario and elsewhere.

The toll comes as front-line staff struggle with burnout and grief while navigating the unpredictability of COVID-19 and the latest Omicron wave. And a lack of swift action on the part of policy-makers to reduce opioid-related harms, some critics say, has exacerbated an already dire situation.

“The drug poisoning crisis is not getting better,” said Shaun Hopkins, manager of The Works, a supervised consumption site run by the city of Toronto. “We’re continuing to see records being set in terms of paramedic calls, deaths, overdose numbers.”

The Works saw a record 165 overdoses in December, accounting for 8.8 per cent of all visits to the site that month. It is a marked increase from December 2019, where the rate of overdoses hovered around 1.4 per cent. In January 2022, the rate of overdoses remained high at 5.6 per cent.

Paramedics in Toronto also saw a record number of opioid deaths in 2021, responding to a total of 357 fatal suspected overdose calls. In 2020, paramedics responded to 268 fatal calls. Because paramedics aren’t involved in every opioid fatality, the numbers for opioid-related deaths in 2021 may be higher, said Gillian Kolla, a post-doctoral fellow at St. Michael’s Hospital with expertise in drug policy.

Due to a data lag in Ontario, preliminary numbers of opioid-related fatalities for 2021 are only available up until June, but they hover at 1,415 deaths. In all of 2020, the province saw 2,431 deaths. British Columbia, which released its 2021 data on Monday, saw its deadliest year yet for opioid-related deaths, with 2,224 fatalities.

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