Nearly 800 opioid emergencies reported in Hamilton this year, including 145 deaths

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Published December 4, 2023 at 1:40 pm

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The City of Hamilton has reported nearly 800 opioid-related emergency calls in 2023 so far which is “consistently higher than in any other recent period.”

Hamilton’s health department prepared the report for the Dec. 4 Public Health Committee meeting. Council had commissioned the report last winter to track opioid-related impacts in Hamilton. It found that “Hamilton continues to experience a significant public health burden related to the ongoing toxic and unpredictable drug supply.”

“In Hamilton, opioid-related paramedic calls and emergency department visits continue to rise [between July and September]. Other harms such as hospitalizations, suspected drug-related deaths, and opioid-related deaths have remained comparable to previous quarters in 2023.”

Part of this consistency includes who is being most impacted by opioids in the community. In 2023 this is predominantly men between 30 and 60 years old. Most overdoses occur in private residences and usually involve a secondary substance, most often a stimulant.

Hamilton Paramedic Services, Hamilton Health Sciences hospitals and the Ontario Office of the Chief Coroner al contributed data to the report.

This chart tracks the number of opioid-related health incidents, including deaths, stretching back to 2019. It shows a steep drop in incidents in the fall of 2019, which more than rebounded by spring 2021. via the City of Hamilton.

So far this year Hamilton Paramedics has reported 797 opioid-related paramedic calls, between 255 and 285 per quarter. This remains higher than any other time in the past four years except a three-month stretch from July to September 2021.

Recently these incidents have been mostly concentrated in a few areas in the city. Roughly half of opioid calls this year originated in Ward 2 and nearly a quarter came from Ward 3.

Typically, the rate of emergency room visits mirrors the rate of paramedic calls. Exact hospital numbers are only available until July. However, that period also demonstrated an increase comparable to total calls. There were 202 hospital visits between January and March and 219 from April to June.

Likewise, the amount of those visits that evolved into a full hospitalization has also risen over the year with 25 hospitalizations between January to March 2023, and 35 from April to June. This is the most hospitalizations since the 42 recorded in the third quarter of 2021.

Drug overdose deaths are also still on the rise in the city, with 46 suspected drug-related deaths from July to September. This bring the total to 145 so far this year. After investigations, 75 of these cases are confirmed opioid overdose deaths. However, these investigations only include deaths prior to July.

The majority of these deaths (72 per cent) were men most of whom (73 per cent) were 30 to 59 years old. About 66 per cent of all overdose deaths happened in a private home. Other prominent place included the outdoors (16 per cent) and communal housing (8 per cent).

Additionally, the city found 90 per cent of deaths involved more than one substance. They found stimulants in 77 per cent of deaths, suppresant benzodiazepines in 40 per cent and, and the sedative xylazine in 4 per cent.

“Overall, this quarterly report continues to highlight the burden of the unpredictable and toxic drug supply in Hamilton, and the impact on the health of the community,” the report concluded.

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