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Report analyzes 1,337 opioid-related deaths in Ontario from July 2017 - June 2018

Toronto, June 17, 2019

Dr. Tara Gomes
Dr. Tara Gomes

The Ontario Drug Policy Research Network of St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, the Office of the Chief Coroner for Ontario, and Public Health Ontario have released a report analyzing the 1,337 opioid-related deaths in Ontario between July 2017 and June 2018. Among these, this new report sheds light on the circumstances behind the 1,209 deaths that were deemed accidental, including characteristics of those who have died, involvement of different opioid and non-opioid substances, and context about where the overdoses occurred.

Nearly 60 per cent of incidents occurred at the deceased person’s own private residence, 17 per cent were in another person’s private residence, and about 12 per cent were inside another accommodation such as a rooming house, hotel or motel, shelter, or supportive housing. Importantly, people were most often alone at time of overdose when it occurred in their own private residence.

The report found that a resuscitation attempt was made in about half of the deaths and naloxone was administered by first responders, hospital staff or bystanders in 22 per cent of accidental deaths.

“It’s hoped that a better understanding of the people most vulnerable to fatal opioid overdoses and their circumstances can inform programs and services to help prevent these deaths in Ontario,” said Dr. Tara Gomes, a principal investigator of the Ontario Drug Policy Research Network and a scientist at the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute of St. Michael’s Hospital.

Including data from the Office of the Chief Coroner for Ontario, Public Health Ontario presents information on the reported cases and rates of opioid–related harms on the online Interactive Opioid Tool.

The Office of the Chief Coroner is committed to ongoing surveillance activities currently being carried out and welcomes additional collaborations that will further efforts to prevent death. In partnering with Public Health Ontario and Ontario Drug Policy Research Network, reliable and timely data is being collected, shared and analyzed with a view to saving lives.

“The data contained in this report could not have been collected without the diligence of many professionals including, but not limited to: Ontario’s coroners, pathologists with the Ontario Forensic Pathology Service, toxicologists with the Centre of Forensic Sciences; first responders, healthcare personnel and harm reduction workers. I also want to thank the families who have lost loved ones to opioid overdoses for their assistance during our investigations,” said Chief Coroner, Dr. Dirk Huyer.

Other findings in the report include:

  • Of the 1,337 deaths between July 2017 and June 2018, 1,209 (90.4%) were accidental and 99 (7.4%) were suicides. Among accidental opioid-related deaths:
    • Fentanyl and fentanyl analogues directly contributed to death for almost three-quarters (71.2%) with the potent fentanyl analogue, carfentanil, contributing to 12.4 per cent of accidental deaths.
    Non-opioid substances, such as cocaine, methamphetamine, alcohol, and benzodiazepines, also contributed to opioid-related deaths.
Nearly three in four deaths were among males. Just over half of deaths involved people between the ages of 25 and 44, while about one-third were aged 45 to 64. The majority (62.0%) occurred among people residing in large urban centres, and nearly one-third (31.8%) lived in neighbourhoods with higher material deprivation (inability to attain basic resources). Nearly half (46.8%) occurred among people who were unemployed, whereas 18.1% were employed (32.9% with unknown employment status). Where employment industry information was available, nearly one-third (31.0%) of those employed worked in the construction industry.


This paper is an example of how St. Michael's Hospital is making Ontario Healthier, Wealthier, Smarter.

About St. Michael's Hospital

St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in more than 27 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the Hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael’s Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.

About Unity Health Toronto

Unity Health Toronto, comprised of Providence Healthcare, St. Joseph’s Health Centre and St. Michael’s Hospital, works to advance the health of everyone in our urban communities and beyond. Our health network serves patients, residents and clients across the full spectrum of care, spanning primary care, secondary community care, tertiary and quaternary care services to post-acute through rehabilitation, palliative care and long-term care, while investing in world-class research and education. For more information, visit www.unityhealth.to.


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