Canadian opioid-related crimes rose heavily in 2020, part of an overdose crisis fuelled by the pandemic, Statistics Canada data released July 27 show.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is worsening the ongoing public health crisis of opioid overdose deaths and hospitalizations,” the report said.
From April to December, following the implementation of COVID-19 prevention measures nationally, there were 5,148 opioid-related deaths, an 89% increase from the same period in 2019, the report said.
Of all accidental apparent opioid toxicity deaths in 2020, 82% involved fentanyl or fentanyl analogues.
The situation is the worst in western Canada but rates are beginning to climb in other regions, particularly Ontario.
2020 was B.C.’s worst year for illicit drug deaths, with 1,726 deaths. The highest number previously was in 2018, with 1,549 deaths. By April 2018, 535 people died, down from 555 in April of 2017, a year which saw 1,493 fatalities.
And, 2021 is on track to be another year of tragic fatalities.
The report said a number of factors were cited as possible contributors to a worsening of the opioid overdose crisis during the pandemic, including the increasingly toxic drug supply, increased feelings of isolation, stress and anxiety and limited availability or accessibility of services for people who use drugs.
In 2020, there were 5,142 opioid-related offences in Canada, representing a rate of 14 per 100,000 population, a 34% increase compared to 2019.
All opioid-related drug violations increased, including more possession, trafficking, production and importation or exportation offences.
B.C. led the way with 54 crimes per 100,000 population, followed by Alberta with 12 and Ontario at 10.
The larger cities with the highest rates of opioid-related offences were Kelowna (208 per 100,000 population) and Lethbridge (97), followed by Vancouver (43), Guelph (32), Abbotsford-Mission (31), Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo (30) and St. Catharines-Niagara (29).
Opioid-related offences were the only specific drug type to experience an increase in 2020 compared to 2019.
Cannabis offence rate continues decline
Nationally, rates of police-reported cannabis offences continued to drop two years after the legalization in October 2018, the agency reported.
The National Cannabis Survey in 2020’s fourth quarter found 20% of Canadians 15 and older consumed cannabis in the three months preceding the survey, up 2% from the first quarter of 2019 (following legalization) and 6% from the first quarter of 2018 (before legalization).
Over the same time period, the proportion of consumers who reported getting cannabis from a legal source rose from 23% to 68%, while the proportion reporting using an illegal source dropped from 51% to 35%.
Since 2012, national police-reported rates of cannabis-related drug offences have been declining, with notable decreases from 2018 to 2020, the agency said.
The full report can be found here.