Treatment rates for opioid use disorders among teens, young adults decreasing despite surge in opioid-related harms: report

From Unity Health Toronto

Rates of opioid-related deaths among Ontario teens and young adults tripled from 2014-2021 and hospital emergency department visits related to opioid use quadrupled over the same period, a new report shows. At the same time, treatment rates for opioid use disorder decreased for Ontarians ages 15-24, the research found. 

The report, led by  the Ontario Drug Policy Research Network at St. Michael’s Hospital, ICES, the Office of the Chief Coroner for Ontario and Public Health Ontario, analyzed provincial healthcare and demographic data from 2014-2021, and identified trends, characteristics and patterns of healthcare use among teens and young adults aged 15-24.

The report found that medications used to treat opioid use disorder (including methadone and buprenorphine) among teens/young adults fell 50 per cent between 2014 and 2021. Residential treatment admissions fell 73 per cent during this same time period.

“The contrasting patterns of declining rates of treatment for opioid use disorder against rising opioid-related harms among younger Ontarians is troubling,” said Dr. Tara Gomes, principal investigator of the ODPRN and scientist at the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute at St. Michael’s Hospital and ICES.

“This report shows that both teens and young adults who have an opioid use disorder and those who use drugs only occasionally are experiencing harm, which is primarily driven by fentanyl in the illicit drug supply. We, therefore, need to adapt our available treatment, harm reduction, and mental health supports to ensure that they are designed to meet the unique needs and goals of our younger population.”

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