Canada’s Public Health Officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, and US Assistant Secretary for Health, Admiral Rachel Levine, MD, issued a joint statement on September 27 for the release of a white paper on substance use and harm.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, both Canada and the United States experienced an increase in rates of substance use harm and death beyond already high pre-pandemic levels.
The white paper, Substance use and harm during Covid-19, discusses the problem and proposes new approaches for future pandemics. The official joint statement from the two government agencies follows:
“Major challenges” during the pandemic
“Canada and the United States continue to face an ongoing crisis in overdose deaths. Since January 2016, opioid toxicity has claimed the lives of more than 30,000 people in Canada. In the United States, 91,799 people have died from a drug overdose alone in 2020, with 74.8% of those deaths involving an opioid.Unfortunately, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, both countries have seen major challenges from substance-related harm and death.
“Canada and the United States are collaborating under the Canada-US Joint Action Plan on Opioids (APO) in the areas of law enforcement, border security and health. Today, the Group of Health Work of the APO published a joint Canada-US white paper, Substance Use and Harm During COVID-19 and Approaches to Federal Surveillance and Response, as a collaborative product.
“The white paper examines rapid and innovative approaches used by both countries to monitor substance use trends during the pandemic. It includes information on substance use harm and deaths in Canada and the United States , the impact of COVID-19 on the opioid crisis, and policy responses to address substance use from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic through September 2022.
Deaths from Covid, suicide and overdose
“Substance use harm is a prominent global public health problem that extends beyond North America. For many countries, preventing substance use harm has been a long-standing challenge – one has become more challenging in the context of a global pandemic. During the COVID-19 pandemic, both Canada and the United States have experienced an increase in rates of harm and death from substance use beyond already high pre-pandemic levels This can be attributed, in part, to a decrease in access to supports and services for people who use substances at the start of the pandemic.
“At the same time, the increase in feelings of isolation, stress and anxiety and an increase in the toxicity of the drug supply has contributed to higher rates of death in both countries. The monitoring and understanding of the trends in substance use can help guide policies and programs to reduce harm and save lives.
“Our collaboration on this white paper demonstrates our continued commitment to addressing the overdose crisis together so that people in our respective countries can live to their full potential. The 2021 Roadmap for a Canada-US Partnership renewed, by Prime Minister Trudeau and President Biden, reaffirmed our commitment to work together to find effective approaches to shared challenges, including those related to substance use.
“This joint white paper sets the stage for further exchanges of important information, lessons learned, and ultimately continued collaboration to address overdose deaths in our two countries.