Chief public health officer of Canada Dr. Theresa Tam (Government of Canada)

opioid crisis

Opioid crisis may be shortening British Columbians’ life expectancy: report

Canada among healthiest wealthy countries, but 8,000 overdose deaths since 2016 are causing concern

For the first time in decades, B.C.’s life expectancy may be dropping, largely because of the staggering number of deaths from opioid crisis.

Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, said in her annual report Tuesday that while Canada ranks among the healthiest high-income countries in the world, concerning trends are emerging from the 8,000 deaths across it in the past two years.

B.C. is home to the highest number of people dying of illicit drug overdoses over the last eight years, making up nearly three-quarters of the 2,000 deaths nationwide in 2017.

Tam said this crisis is contributing to the average life expectancy in B.C. sliding by roughly 43 days.

READ MORE: New in-depth report sheds light on who in B.C. is dying of drug overdoses

READ MORE: B.C. doctors told not to limit opioids or refuse care of chronic pain patients

The dip was more pronounced in men and in poorer neighbourhoods – similar to findings from the BC Coroners Service.

“We have to think about how to reverse these trends for future generations,” Tam said in a video online. “This is a key moment in Canada to examine how we address substance use across all areas of potential action: Prevention, harm reduction, treatment and recovery.

“My aim with this report is to draw attention to the central role of prevention.”

The report, which also focused on problematic substance use in youth, found that marketing, advertising and availability of a substance directly increases its use among youth – whether it be for a coping mechanism or trauma or other reasons.

READ MORE: B.C. guidelines focus on mother and baby fighting opioid addiction

Other implications to Canada’s overall health status include smoking, physical inactivity, unhealthy eating, and harmful use of alcohol, which all increase the risk of chronic diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular and neurological disorders, and diabetes.


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