Nov. 5, 2020 (Toronto, Ontario) – Unintentional poisonings have surpassed motor-vehicle collisions as a major cause of preventable death in Canada.
That’s a key finding of the Evidence Summary on the Prevention of Poisoning in Canada, a joint report by Parachute, Canada’s national charity dedicated to injury prevention, and the Injury Prevention Centre, University of Alberta. The Evidence Summary describes the current poisoning problem in Canada to inform current and future prevention initiatives.
Poisoning refers to the toxic effects of any substance, such as a medication, cleaning product or gas vapour, on the body. Poisoning is also the accurate term to describe the effects of drug use rather than overdose, which suggests that individuals know and choose to exceed the correct dose, though no such dose exists.
Key findings of the evidence summary
- Approximately 4,000 Canadians die each year due to poisoning. Unintentional poisoning, in particular, is a much larger public health issue in Canada than is generally recognized.
- Unintentional poisoning deaths have now surpassed transport-related deaths in Canada. In 2017, there were more than twice as many fatalities due to unintentional poisonings compared to transport-related injuries.
- Over the 11-year period from 2008 to 2018, the death rate due to unintentional poisoning had a statistically significant average increase of 11.4 per cent each year.
- While progress has been made towards preventing poisonings in recent years, critical new issues, such as Canada’s opioid crisis, have arisen. Hospitalizations due to opioid poisonings increased by 27 per cent from 2013 to 2017, with an estimate of 17 opioid-poisoning hospitalizations each day in Canada.
- Substances classified as opioids (for example: heroin, fentanyl) have become a major cause of morbidity and mortality across Canada, to the point of a national crisis. Much of these outcomes are due to unintentional opioid poisonings, rather than intentional self-harm or suicide.
- The growing rate of contamination in illicit drugs with fentanyl and other opioids is of particular concern, placing those using these substances at an increased risk for poisoning and possibly death.
“While young children and seniors are at high risk for many mechanisms of poisoning, such as exposure to corrosive household cleaners or over-the-counter medications, males in mid-adulthood are the major population at risk for opioid-related poisonings,” says Pamela Fuselli, President and CEO of Parachute, and co-author of the Summary. “Nearly half of all opioid-related poisoning deaths in Canada are among those aged 30 to 49, and three-quarters are among males.”
Dr. Kathy Belton, Associate Director of the Injury Prevention Centre and also co-author of the Summary, notes that Western Canada has been the region most impacted by Canada’s opioid crisis, with British Columbia declaring a public health emergency in 2016. In 2018, British Columbia reported more than 1,500 deaths related to illicit drug use, with fentanyl detected in 87 per cent of these cases.
Since the publication of the first evidence summary on the Prevention of Poisoning of Children in Canada in 2011 (Parachute and Injury Prevention Centre, 2011), positive strides have been made toward preventing poisonings across Canada, including advances in research and public policy as well as creation of a national surveillance system that includes all poison centre data.
Recommended actions to prevent unintentional poisoning in Canada
- Sustainable solutions to the opioid crisis, in addition to currently implemented short-term initiatives, aimed at rapidly decreasing the number of deaths in response to the crisis.
- Integrated surveillance systems across all existing data collection structures to present a comprehensive burden of poisonings.
- National poison centre access (1-800 number), to connect people in Canada with their local poison centre anywhere in the country, simplify public education materials across the country and create a seamless poison control centre system nationally.
- Products database, similar to the United States and European Union, to enable product-level surveillance and signal-boosting (e.g., contaminations) and improve access to product information across Canada to inform medical treatment when exposures occur.
Poisoning prevention best practices
Evidence-informed best practices, described further in the Evidence Summary, include:
- Poison centres, to help assess risk and guide treatment
- Public health policy, to regulate access to substances as well as their safe and sanitary manufacturing and packaging
- Safer packaging and safe storage to prevent unintended access to medications and substances
- Comprehensive, multi-component approaches to drug and substance use, including harm reduction measures and access to treatment and rehabilitation services
Parachute is Canada’s national charity dedicated to reducing the devastating impact of preventable injuries. Injury is the No. 1 killer of Canadians aged 1 to 34, where on average one child dies every day due to injury. Through education and advocacy, Parachute is working to save lives and create a Canada free of serious injuries. For more information, visit us at parachute.ca and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.
About Injury Prevention Centre
The Injury Prevention Centre (IPC) is a provincial organization that focuses on promoting, supporting and sustaining community action, recognizing the expertise and capacity of Alberta communities, to enable or empower Albertans to work and play hard, free from life limiting injuries. For more information, visit us at injurypreventioncentre.ca and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
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Vice President, Communications and Marketing, Parachute