Coroner's report suggests Northern Ontario cities bearing brunt of opioid overdose deaths

A second health emergency has continued to quietly boil over in Ontario: the opioid crisis.  

New data from Ontario's coroner says Sudbury, northern cities have higher death rates than south

There are local efforts to ease the opioid crisis in Sault Ste. Marie, but the city says it still needs help from the provincial government. (CBC)

A second health emergency has continued to quietly boil over in Ontario: the opioid crisis. 

New data collected by the province's chief coroner show a rising number of opioid-related deaths in the north. 

Public Health Sudbury and Districts reported 105 overdose deaths in 2020, compared with 56 in 2019.

Algoma Public Health also had some of the most alarming numbers in the region, totalling 53 opioid-related deaths in 2020, up from 17 in 2019.

The province as a whole saw 2426 deaths in 2020.

According to the report, fentanyl continues to drive the increase, being involved in 86 per cent of opioid-related deaths.

Sudbury's per capita deaths by opioid is the highest in Ontario, with over 50 per 100,000, with North Bay, Thunder Bay, Timmins and Sault Ste. Marie close to, or over 40 deaths per 100,000.

Christian Provenzano, mayor of Sault Ste. Marie, said the numbers, while alarming on their own, are particularly concerning to northern communities.

"Frankly, this is a health care issue,"  Provenzano said. "And the health care that people badly need is not available for them"

"It simply has to be addressed and we can't take any more time to address it or we'll lose more lives unnecessarily."

Compounding the problem of having a deadly opioid circulating in communities, is the outdated infrastructure that health teams need to deal with underlying issues.

"The reality of my community and many communities in northern Ontario, is that the health care infrastructure does not exist and is not being invested in by our other levels of government," he said. 

Christian Provenzano is the mayor of Sault Ste. Marie. (Twitter)

"We can't continue to rely on the health care infrastructure that addressed mental health and addiction issues five years ago, 10 years ago and 15 years ago."

In Sault Ste. Marie, Provenzano said the city lost its detox facility during the pandemic and it hasn't reopened.

"We have gone backwards and we don't have basic infrastructure," he said. "The people that have these health care challenges need it available to them, and people are suffering, people are dying for it."

In Sudbury, Josee Joliat, coordinator of the city's community drug strategy, said one approach has been applying to get approval for a supervised consumption site.

But the challenge, Joliat said, has been finding a suitable location for the site.

"That part's still missing," Joliat said. "We've been working with Public Health Sudbury, Reseau Access Network and also the application advisory committee. We've been working on bringing together other pieces that are required for this application."

"We've been working on putting bringing partners together, getting letters of support, making sure that all the policies and procedures are in place, and also trying to find a location, which has been kind of the the most [discussed] part of the application," she said.

"We're trying to find something within the downtown core that will be able to properly meet the needs of our clients and also our community. We haven't been successful yet, but we're still trying because we are very eager in getting these services up and going."

Melanie Landry, a founding member of Sudbury Temporary Overdose Prevention Society (STOPS), said the group is tired, having seen years go by without strong support from the city.

"There has been an insurmountable amount of opioid deaths and we would like the city to acknowledge the fact that this is a crisis," Landry said.

"And even though we are going through the COVID-19 pandemic at the time, this is a silent crisis that nobody is acknowledging."

With files from Up North


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?