Overdoses related to illicit opioids and other substances are a significant public health crisis in Canada. In order to design effective public health interventions and reduce barriers to care, it is important to understand how people who experience overdose connect with the healthcare system. New research has examined how people who experience overdose in one province in Canada access a range of healthcare services, including ambulance services, emergency departments, and hospitals, with details published in the International Journal of Population Data Science (IJPDS).

 Canada has been experiencing an overdose crisis since 2012, when fentanyl emerged in the illicit drug supply and there was a significant increase in overdose mortality. This was especially evident in the province of British Columbia, where there were over 4,200 deaths due to overdose from 2018 to 2020. Overdose deaths can be prevented through interventions from healthcare services, but little is known on how people who experience overdose access these services.

A recent study examined pathways of healthcare use among people who experience overdose in British Columbia, Canada. In this study, researchers used a unique dataset, the British Columbia Provincial Overdose Cohort that linked information on overdoses using data from ambulances, emergency departments, hospitals, and vital statistics from 2015 to 2017. Researchers characterized how people who experienced overdose navigated the healthcare system as well as how many people died of overdose without contact with healthcare services. Over 34,000 overdoses from over 23,000 individuals were included in this study, as some individuals had multiple overdose events. Researchers found that over 3,000 people in the cohort died from overdose, nearly 80% of whom had no contact with any healthcare services. Yet, among overdose events that did show access to emergency health services, emergency departments, or hospitals, only 2% resulted in death. These findings emphasize the importance of providing timely healthcare and understanding barriers to accessing healthcare among people who experience overdose in British Columbia, Canada. The results can be used to design effective interventions to prevent overdoses both within and outside the healthcare system.

The study’s lead author, Eva Graham, Public Health Agency of Canada, comments that “this study used a unique source of linked data to understand how people who experience overdose connect with the healthcare system. Our results show how accessing timely healthcare services or other prevention services is critical to reducing overdoses from opioids and other illicit drugs in Canada.”


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Eva Graham, Epidemiologist / Biostatistician for Public Health Agency of Canada

Graham, E., Zhao, B., Flynn, M., Gustafson, P., Irvine, M., Slaunwhite, A., Orpana, H., Kuo, M. and MacDougall, L. (2022) “Using Linked Data to Identify Pathways of Reporting Overdose Events in British Columbia, 2015 - 2017 ”, International Journal of Population Data Science, 7(1). doi: 10.23889/ijpds.v7i1.1708.