Windsor

Windsor-Essex area opioid misuse leads to spike in deaths, ER visits and hospitalizations

Opioid use

At least 241 people have died from opioid-related, accidental drug overdoses in New Brunswick in the past 11 years. (CBC)

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There has been a rising number of opioid-related deaths, emergency-room visits and hospitalizations in this area and in Ontario at large since the early 2000s, according to a new report from the Windsor-Essex Health Unit.

Opioids include codeine, fentanyl, heroin, hydromorphone, methadone, morphine and oxycodone. This family of drugs is used for pain and has "morphine-like effects," according to the Centre of Addiction and Mental Health's website. Opioids are generally prescribed for pain, but since they can produce euphoria, the abuse of them has been an ongoing issue here and across Canada, according to CAMH.

Deaths

The number of people who died due to opioid toxicity per year in Windsor-Essex County more than doubled in recent years. In all of 2007, there were 15 deaths due to opioid toxicity, by 2013 that number rose to 33.

In all of Ontario there were 336 deaths due to opioid toxicity in 2007. By 2013, the number had almost doubled to 655 deaths due to opioid toxicity.

The rate of death due to opioid toxicity per 100,000 population is 8.2 in Windsor-Essex, compared to a rate of 4.9 for the the entire province. 

Emergency-room visits

In the Windsor-Essex area, the rate of opioid-related emergency room visits has been steadily climbing.

In 2003, the rate of ER visits by females that were related to opioids was 20.9 per 100,000 population. By 2013, the rate had jumped to 74.0 for females.

Emergency room visits by males here saw a similar spike. In 2003, the rate was 32.4 per 100,000 population of visits to the ER were related to opioids, that rate rose to 118.9 by 2013.

The 2013 rates for both men and women in the Windsor-Essex area are above the Ontario-wide rates. In 2013, the rate of opioid-related ER visits for females was 52.0 and 67.2 for males per 100,000 population, according to the report.

Hospitalizations

The rate of opioid-related hospitalizations for females was higher in Windsor-Essex in comparison to the overall rate for Ontario. In 2003, the rate in Windsor-Essex for females was 3.5 per 100,000 population. By 2013, that rate was up to 18.7 for Windsor-Essex. That's in comparison to a rate of 12.3 per 100,000 population for females in all of Ontario in 2013. For males in this region, the rate rose from 1.0 in 2003 to 16.6 in 2013. That's in comparison to a rate of 12.3 per 100,000 population for males in the entire province in 2013.

Expert reaction

Judy Palesh, the substance-abuse prevention public health nurse with the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit, said she's not surprised by the numbers. In fact, she thinks the real numbers are likely higher.

Judy Palesh

Judy Palesh (CBC News)

"I think there is more activity that goes on that doesn't get accounted for," said Palesh in an interview with CBC News.

That's because many people who have had an overdose in the community will not seek treatment at a hospital for a host of reasons, such as fear of stigma, she explained.

She said she hears stories almost daily about people struggling with opioids.

Addiction to opioids can be a "downward spiral" where a person who was once a functioning, law-abiding member of society spirals down into addiction, Palesh said.

Canadians are among the highest users of prescription opioids in the world, according to a 2012 Canadian Medical Association Journal report. About 200,000 Canadians were addicted to painkillers, according to the early 2012 CMAJ report.

This is part of an ongoing series on opioid use in Windsor-Essex. On Thursday: More on the impact of opioid use on individuals and our community.