A new study reveals the growing toll the opioid crisis is taking on Ontario’s emergency departments and paramedic services, and should serve as a “wake-up call” to policymakers, the report’s author says.
Patients presenting to emergency departments due to opioid use more than doubled between 2009 and 2019, said lead researcher Ryan Strum, a doctoral candidate at McMaster University.
But it was paramedics who experienced the biggest increase in demand for service, Strum found. The number of patients transported to hospitals due to opioid use quadrupled during that decade.
“This research really underscores the need to increase our support and resources for these patients who are struggling,” Strum said.
The Hamilton, Niagara, Haldimand and Brant region was one of the “major centers” that saw a staggering increase in people needing help due to opioid use, he said.
Paramedic transports increased sevenfold, from 217 to more than 1,600, and emergency department visits quadrupled from 500 to more than 2,200.
Exactly why these municipalities experienced increased demand is unknown, but it could be that there are more people using opioids like fentanyl and the even more potent carfentanil compared to other areas, Strum said. For example, Hamilton had the third-highest opioid-related death rate in Ontario and the highest rate in southern Ontario, according to 2018 city data.
McMaster’s study is the first of its kind in Canada to look not only at people who enter the health care system for opioid overdoses and deaths, but also for withdrawal and dependence symptoms, and related mental health disorders, such as psychosis, Strum said.
The peer-reviewed study It was published on September 8 with the Public Science Library’s magazine, Plos One.
The study also shows that the majority of patients who went to emergency departments were not admitted to the hospital, but were discharged. That indicates they could receive effective treatment and help through community programs that, with more funding, could ease the burden on emergency services, Strum said.
In the coming months it will publish the same data from more recent years and everything indicates that the results will be even more surprising, since the opioid crisis has only worsened, he said. He calls on policymakers to act “sooner rather than later.”
“We’ve known about the opioid crisis for almost two decades,” he said.
“So we have a surplus of data. We have many experts in the field who specialize in how to treat and manage these patients. I think we really need to bring all of these resources together and come up with tangible solutions.”
Minister announces funding to support Hamilton
According to recent city data, Hamilton has seen an increase in Opioid-related overdoses and deaths since 2018, which led him to declare a state of emergency at the beginning of this year.
On Monday, the federal government announced $1.8 million for local substance use projects at the St. Joseph Mental Health Campus. The money is not new, but was promised in the 2022 federal budget.
Minister Ya’ara Saks, who oversees mental health and addictions, said the funds will be divided between the city for further harm reduction outreach and peer support workers, the AIDS Network to bolster its current delivery program safer, and St. Joseph’s to improve the health of patients. treatment, diagnosis and care.
“We know that people who use substances need a more comprehensive range of services and supports,” Saks said at a news conference. “Whether it’s prevention to harm reduction, treatment and recovery, we all need to be there.”
These types of announcements do little to help the city address the many crises it faces, including opioids, homelessness, mental health and affordable housing, Hamilton Coun said. Cameron Kroetsch (District 2), whose downtown pavilion houses a major hospital’s emergency department and safer-use spaces.
Hamilton needs “enormous amounts of funding” from the provincial and federal governments to take “serious, bold action today,” he said.
“Upper levels of government spend too much time thinking about re-election cycles than addressing problems,” Kroetsch said.
“Meanwhile, every day we fall further and further behind.”