Record numbers died from alcohol and drug use in Canada during COVID-19 pandemic
Younger individuals made up the largest number of alcohol-related deaths in Canada.
An increase in alcohol-related deaths in Canada during the pandemic speaks to the culture we’ve created where it’s acceptable to drink to cope with stress, one experts notes. (Trevor Brine/CBC)
The number of people who died due to alcohol increased to record numbers during the COVID-19 pandemic, Statistics Canada reports.
“These are large increases, particularly [because] these numbers tend to be relatively static,” said Dr. Timothy Naimi, director of the University of Victoria’s Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research and professor at the university’s School of Public Health and Social Policy.
“Having said that, it’s not surprising. We know that alcohol consumption has gone up, although not by the degree with how deaths have.”
He added there’s been a similar phenomenon with alcohol-related deaths increasing in the U.S. and in Europe.
Kara Thompson, a professor of psychology at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S., says the number of deaths in Canada is worrisome.
“They speak to the culture that we’ve created where it’s acceptable to drink to cope with stress,” she said.
“I also think it speaks to the fact that people are unaware of the significant harms that can result from their alcohol use.”
Black balloons hang in a tree to remember people who died of overdoses in Manitoba. The display in 2022 was to mark International Black Balloon Day. (Darin Morash/CBC)
Younger populations affected
Younger generations made up the largest proportion of the alcohol-related deaths in the first two years of the pandemic.
Stats Canada data shows alcohol-related deaths increased in the under-65 age group from 2019 to 2020 by 27 per cent, with 2,490 alcohol-related deaths recorded in 2020.
That’s significantly higher than the four per cent increase in alcohol-related deaths among those 65 and older during the same time period.
The pandemic also saw an increase in deaths attributed to unintentional poisonings and exposure to noxious substances, especially among people under age 45.
Accidental poisoning includes from various illegal drugs, prescription and over-the-counter medications, as well as solvents and pesticides.
In 2020, 4,605 people died from accidental poisonings or noxious substance exposure, with roughly 57 per cent of those who died under the age of 45, Statistics Canada reported. A year later, the number of accidental poisoning deaths grew to 6,310, with 3,600 of those people under 45.
In comparison, Statistics Canada said at the previous height of the overdose crisis in 2017, there were 4,830 deaths attributed to unintentional poisonings.
“I think what we’re seeing here is in line with what provincial level data has been telling us,” added Naimi.
The data released Thursday doesn’t include all of the deaths during that time and does not include information on deaths in Yukon. The agency said it collected its data from medical certificates completed by a medical professional, medical examiner or coroner.