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Ontario drug, alcohol overdose deaths almost doubled during pandemic, researchers say

TORONTO — A new report says the number of accidental drug and alcohol deaths almost doubled in Ontario during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Ontario Drug Policy Research Network and Public Health Ontario say almost 3,000 people died from drug or alcohol toxicity in 2021, compared to nearly 1,600 people in 2018.

Senior author Tara Gomes says that’s an average of eight deaths every day in 2021.

She says the number of deaths involving multiple substances surpassed deaths from one substance alone.

Those substances include opioids, stimulants such as cocaine or meth, benzodiazepines and alcohol.

Gomes says the health-care system needs to be able to help people who use different types of drugs — not just opioids.

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She says about three-quarters of the deaths happened in people’s homes.

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Gomes says that shows the importance of destigmatizing drug use so people don’t use alone and have someone to help in case of an overdose.

“There are harms that come with substance use and we know that across the board, from alcohol to stimulants and opioids,” said Gomes, who is an epidemiologist at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.

“But we also know that people often are going to choose to use substances regardless of whether we as a society morally think that is the right or wrong thing to do. And if we don’t find a way to help support people doing that safely, we’re kind of agreeing as a society that we’re OK with letting people die.”

&copy 2023 The Canadian Press

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