Opioid-Related Death Rates Rise Dramatically in Past 25 Years

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It's important for Mississaugans to be aware of the risks of opioid use, especially since the Ontario Drug Policy Research Network (ODPRN) has found that opioid-related death rates have quadrupled over the past 25 years in Ontario.

Opioids are classified as powerful pain relievers that are available legally with a prescription. If you've been prescribed a powerful pain reliever like fentanyl, oxycodone, or codeine, you have opioids in your very own medicine cabinet.

According to ODPRN's study on emerging trends in opioid-related deaths in Ontario over the past 25 years, four in five of all opioid-related deaths were accidental. Accidental misuse of prescribed pain killers is a cause of death for many.

In fact, 60 percent of these accidental deaths occurred among youth and young adults aged 15-44.

In 2015 alone, 734 people died of an opioid-related cause. This number has quadrupled over the past 25 years, averaging about two people dying from opioids every day. To put this in perspective, that's more than the number of people killed in motor vehicle collisions in 2014.

Though it's risky to take opioids, residents can benefit from being aware of the seriousness of the drugs they're on.

In particular, Peel Regional Police (PRP) have released information on the risks and seriousness of Fentanyl use, the opioid that has contributed to 548 percent more opioid-related deaths from 2006-2015.

"The drug is extremely dangerous and has caused a number of deaths not only in western Canadian cities but right here in Peel Region," said a release from PRP earlier this year.

Fentanyl is used for chronic pain management. The drug is skin permeable, meaning it's immediately absorbed when it comes in contact with skin.

Fentanyl overdose can result in difficulty breathing, leading to respiratory and cardiac arrest. Not only is the drug dangerous to the public but also to emergency services personnel and others who come in contact with it, since it's skin permeable.

Over the past three years, 37 people have died from Fentanyl use in the Region of Peel. In 2014, there were eight deaths where Fentanyl was either the primary or a contributing factor. In 2015 there were 12, and in 2016 there were 17 such deaths.

"These deaths illustrate the importance of educating both the public and emergency responders, including our officers, of the potential health and safety risks associated with the handling of Fentanyl," said the release. "Within the Peel Regional Police, officers have received training outlining some of the dangers posed by the drug, as well as instruction on handling any powder form substance, in order to mitigate the impact of the exposure to toxic or dangerous compounds such as Fentanyl."

Raising awareness and educating the public on the dangers posed by Fentanyl is an important step in reducing opioid-related deaths.

Residents are advised not to touch unidentified substances or suspected drugs to avoid accidental absorption, and not to ingest any medications or drugs unless they have been specifically prescribed by a doctor.

Medical attention should be sought immediately if you have an adverse physical reaction to any ingested substance.

Knowledge is power, and with this dramatic rise in opioid-related deaths in Ontario, the more you know, the safer you'll be.

If anyone has information pertaining to the illicit sale or misuse of opioids, they are asked to contact the Major Drugs and Vice Bureau at (905) 453-2121, ext. 3515.

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