The mayors of Canada’s largest cities are calling on the federal government to finally come up with a national standard for collecting and releasing data about opioid overdoses and deaths.
Vancouver alone is on track to reach 400 deaths this year.
Despite being in the midst of what is widely described as a public health crisis, there is no clear picture of how bad the problem is across the country because the data is patchwork, at best.
Vancouver alone is on track to reach 400 deaths this year. British Columbia, which has been hit hardest by the crisis, now releases monthly reports on overdose deaths. Ontario saw 718 die of opioid poisoning in 2015, the most recent year for which it has statistics.
“We need a strong national response to fix this data problem and scale up an immediate increase in medical solutions to save lives,” said Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, who chairs a new opioid crisis task force with mayors from Surrey, Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Calgary, Regina, Winnipeg, Hamilton, London, Kitchener, Toronto, and Ottawa.
“We can’t end this crisis without clear data on what’s happening on the ground”
“The glaring gaps in drug overdose data mask the seriousness of the fentanyl crisis and are a dangerous barrier to addressing the horrific overdose death toll impacting families across Canada.”
In one third of the cities on the task force, fentanyl is the leading cause of drug overdose death, according to the news release.
The task force is asking for a minimum of quarterly reports and a goal of producing monthly reports in all provinces and territories, and that demographic data, like how the crisis is affecting Indigenous communities, be included.
As it stands, only Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Vancouver, Surrey, and Winnipeg have access to the most recent 2016 data on overdose deaths, said the news release.
“We can’t end this crisis without clear data on what’s happening on the ground — and involving cities in the solution,” said Robertson.
“We don’t know yet how many people in Canada died last year as a result of overdose.”
Some changes are already en route. On Tuesday, Ontario officials announced they would be collecting data earlier in the process, and as of this month, hospitals are reporting opioid overdoses to the government on a weekly basis.
At a drug policy conference last week, federal Health Minister Jane Philpott said she was “fixated” on ending the crisis, calling it “one of the biggest public health challenges that our country is facing,” the Toronto Star reported.
She noted that there was an “appalling dearth of data,” and it’s currently unknown how many people in Canada are affected by opioid use disorder.
“We don’t know yet how many people in Canada died last year as a result of overdose,” she said.
Philpott did not respond to a request for comment on this story. She made similar comments at a summit on the opioid crisis in November, calling it “an emergency.”