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Opioid-related deaths are on the rise among young people

Opioid-related deaths grew fivefold in Ontario, Canada from 2003 to 2020, and the impacts moved toward younger people. A new study published in the journal PLOS ONE showed that opioid deaths peak in people in their mid-thirties. 

Opioids and opioid related deaths are increasing problems in North America. The new study gives more information for helping to tailor government response and intervention to the ongoing crisis. 

From 2003 to 2020, there were 11,633 opioid-related deaths in Ontario, according to coroner’s office data collected for the study. These deaths were all of people aged 15 to 69. Overall, 72 percent of the deaths in the study period were of males, and 82 percent of the deaths were accidental. 

During the study period, the death rate grew substantially, increasing five times from what it was at the beginning. Cases among males and females grew substantially, along with the proportion of younger people impacted. 

The analysis shows that in 2003, the majority of deaths occured around the age of 44. By 2020, the majority of deaths seemed to fall around the age of 35 for males. The trend was parallelled in females. 

The researchers suspect that the age of those dying from opioids will continue to drop, making outreach to younger people even more important. “Opioid-related mortality has been rising in Ontario, Canada since 2003, and after a brief decline in part of 2019, the upward trend resumed in the 2020 COVID-19 era,” said the researchers.

“Using a novel Bayesian model and high-frequency data from the coroner’s office, we show that the age distribution of opioid-related mortality has shifted gradually over 18 years from being highest among the 45 to 54-year age group, to being highest among the 25 to 44-year age group.”

“This analysis may inform a refocusing of public health strategy for reducing rising rates of opioid-related mortality, including effectively reaching both older and younger males, as well as young females, with health and social supports such as treatment and harm reduction measures.”

By Zach Fitzner, Staff Writer

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