Opioid poisoning hospitalization rates higher in smaller communities: report

Sudbury had the 12th highest number of opioid poisoning hospitalizations in 2017

Opioid hospitalizations up 73 per cent in Ontario

Hospitalizations due to opioid poisoning are higher in smaller communities than larger communities, says new report. (Graeme Roy/Canadian Press)

A new report from the Canadian Institute for Health Information says the number of opioid related hospitalizations is higher in smaller communities compared to larger, urban cities.

The report found that communities with between 50,000 and 99,999 people saw some of the highest rates of opioid poisonings.

In 2017, Sudbury had the 12th highest number of opioid poisoning hospitalizations.

​Sault Ste. Marie is number eight on the list.

Dr. David Marsh, professor at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine and addiction medicine researcher, says the findings aren't that surprising.

"The problem is getting worse in terms of the Sudbury numbers getting higher. The problem's not getting worse as quickly as some other locations as we've dropped from 5th to 12th on the list," he says.

Marsh says opioid dependence is a growing problem across northern Ontario and the country.

He says there is definitely a growing problem of opioid use in rural communities. Marsh says one of the drivers of the increase in opioid dependence across Canada is the increase in prescription opiates.

"Fortunately in the last couple of years, the level of prescribing has started to decline. But for a long period of time, northern Ontario in particular, had very high rates of opioid prescribing."

While the number of prescriptions have gone down over the years, some people had developed addictions. And since there wasn't very much availability, people started turning to illicit drugs like fentanyl. This started making its way to northern Ontario.

"So we're seeing people presenting to the emergency room with overdose, dying of overdose, from using fentanyl, which is extremely potent."

Border cities can make opioid hospitalizations worse

Marsh says border cities, like Sault Ste. Marie, can see more people using.

"Border cities are at higher risk, they tend to be on routes where drugs are imported or exported," says Marsh.

He says the challenges in the economy in Sault Ste. Marie may also be a reason for the increase in demand of illegal drugs. Marsh says the treatment availability in Sault Ste. Marie hasn't been able to keep up with the growing problem.

"In Sault Ste. Marie and many other parts of northern Ontario we need to really make sure...treatments are available."

The report also notes the number of opioid hospitalizations have risen 73 per cent in Ontario, overall.