Accidental opioid overdoses on P.E.I. on rise

The number of Islanders who have accidentally overdosed on opioids appears to be on the rise. There have been 19 such overdoses as of Oct. 1, 2018, compared to 10 in the last eight months of 2017, when the province began tracking them.

No confirmed deaths from opioid overdoses so far this year

Accidental overdoses from opioids like oxycodone are on the rise in Canada. (Graeme Roy/Canadian Press)

The number of Islanders who have accidentally overdosed on opioids appears to be on the rise.

As of Oct. 1 there have been 19 such overdoses in 2018, compared to 10 in the last eight months of 2017, when the province began tracking them.

"Those numbers mean that there are unintentional overdoses occurring — all of them showing what we call mixed toxicology," P.E.I.'s chief public health officer Dr. Heather Morrison told CBC.

Opioids include prescription pain killers like morphine and codeine, along with illegal drugs like heroin. Mixed toxicology means the opioids were taken along with other drugs and/or alcohol. 

The numbers are in the latest progress report by the province on efforts to prevent opioid overdoses and deaths.
Dr. Heather Morrison says weekly surveillance reports on misuse of opioids are part of the province's efforts to prevent accidental overdoses and fatalities. (Laura Meader/CBC)

No fatal overdoses confirmed yet

The report does not confirm any fatal overdoses so far this year, because the coroner's office has not completed its investigation into any deaths where opioids are suspected as playing a role — that includes any possible deaths involving fentanyl.

The latest statistics show 8,000 Canadians have died since 2016 from accidental opioid overdoses — including five in 2016 and four in 2017 on P.E.I.

"It takes 12 months — sometimes longer — to close a case according to the coroners," said Morrison, adding that's consistent across the country.

The province issued a public alert in May warning fentanyl had shown up in cocaine on P.E.I., however the last confirmed case of a fentanyl-related death here was in 2016. 

That alert in May was part of the province's commitment to try to prevent opioid-related overdoses and deaths, said Morrison.

"The rapid response plan really is driven by the surveillance. So if all of a sudden there was a spike of overdoses or deaths related, especially to fentanyl or a fentanyl analog in a product, we'd want to get that message out." 

Morrison is on a committee working on this, along with representatives from health, justice, addictions, pharmacies, and those with lived experience with addictions. 
Naloxone kits are available free of charge to people working with those at high risk, or through any pharmacy on P.E.I. for $50. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

800 naloxone kits distributed 

"We initiated weekly surveillance from our trauma registry, which is our emergency departments, and we have continued over the last few months to really work on enhancing that surveillance with 811, 911, working with our coroners and our police and RCMP to try to get the best information we can," said Morrison.

Part of the plan is getting naloxone kits — which can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose — into the hands of people who can help those most at risk of overdosing.

Since June 2017, close to 800 naloxone kits have been provided — free of charge — to first responders, staff at the jail, addictions centre, and needle exchange sites, along with family and friends of those misusing opioids.

Maybe we've saved some lives.- Dr. Heather Morrison

Twelve clients submitted anonymous forms indicating naloxone was used — in 11 cases, the form specifically reported the person survived; the last form didn't say.

"I think that's a good sign that they have been used and maybe we've saved some lives," said Morrison.

The take-home kits are also available to anyone at pharmacies on P.E.I. for $50.

The chief public health officer is also encouraged to see more and more Islanders using methadone and suboxone as a replacement to opioids. 

Next up: Prescription monitoring 

While much of the prevention work so far has focused on illicit opioids, Morrison said a report on prescription monitoring will be out this fall or winter. That will look at how many opioids are being prescribed by physicians, nurse practitioners, dentists and pharmacists, and for what purpose.

In addition, there are plans to set up a pain management committee as part of the prevention strategy.

While the number of accidental overdoses appears to be up on P.E.I., "I think we're making strides in an action plan that is a long-term action plan," said Morrison.

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Sally Pitt


Sally Pitt is a producer with CBC and has worked as a journalist for more than 30 years in online, TV, radio and print. She specializes in justice issues and also works with the CBC Atlantic Investigative Unit. You can reach her at