By now, we all know how COVID-19 affected our personal and professional lives, our industries, and basically everything else in our world. This pandemic got all our attention, and because of that, other national emergencies -like the increasing opioid crisis- and our capability to respond, were severely impacted.
We had to divert resources, figure out new management strategies, and many other decisions that saw our emergency response capabilities diminished or limited.
In 2020 alone there were 4,395 deaths caused by an opioid overdose, as stated by the Canadian Centre of Substance Use and Addiction. With the misuse of legal prescriptions and the use disorder of illegal drugs by people in Canada, the opioid crisis has become a national emergency throughout all the provinces and territories.
Covid-19 Pandemic and the Opioid Crisis
The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic has put a strain on the opioid crisis. As mentioned by Howard Koh, professor of the practice of Public Health Leadership and Member of the Stanford-Lancet Commission on the North American Opioid Crisis, in the Big 3 Q&A article by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the pandemic has both masked and amplified this crisis and demands an urgent, unified, and comprehensive response.
Increasing anxiety and isolation had a big influence on people’s well-being, and the lack of access to quality care and proper education on medical issues became a bigger problem each day. All these factors, eventually, influenced the development of the opioid crisis.
Those who needed help for recovery or another sort of emergency, saw the response hindered by the pandemic.
Which provinces and territories are the most affected?
The opioid crisis is a national emergency. But it was clear that British Columbia and Alberta were having big problems. However, in November 2021, Yukon had the highest rate of deaths due to opioids in the country, at 48.4 deaths per 100,000 people.
Of these cases, young Canadians aged 15 to 24 are the fastest-growing population requiring hospital care from opioid overdoses; and 94% of the overall opioid-related emergencies are accidental.
Paramedic Response to the opioid crisis
Most of the paramedic services in Canada were overwhelmed by the pandemic. Many paramedics worked long shifts without resting to respond to every call despite the risk of contracting COVID-19.
As the pandemic developed, paramedic services and other first responders started to set up new strategies and resources to be able to keep their communities safe. With a different approach focused not only on emergency response but also on building prevention and support strategies, services partnered with other organizations and institutions.
New national standards came out promoting additional education, training, and skill development. The CSA Z1650:21 standard by the Canadian Standards Association(CSA) in partnership with the Paramedic Association of Canada(PAC) established a framework to provide education and training to paramedics across Canada.
Opioid Response Training: Preparing paramedics and communities
To bridge the gap and help communities across Canada to be prepared, Premergency Inc partnered with PAC and CSA to create an online training program specially designed to help tackle the opioid crisis through education.
The Opioid Response & Management (ORM) Training Program is directed at paramedics and community first responders to teach how to build and establish an efficient Model of Care within their communities. The ORM program provides custom toolboxes to learn how to establish opioid overdose prevention, support and response framework in an out-of-hospital and community setting.
With a well-structured Model of Care, paramedics and first responders, as well as community advocates and volunteers, can accurately and safely care for those suffering from an opioid overdose.
What Can You Do to Help the Opioid Crisis?
There are many things that, as individuals and communities, we can do to help tackle the opioid crisis and help those affected by it so they can recover.
One of the biggest obstacles is the stigma that people face each day around this problem. The opioid crisis impacts us all, and substance use disorder or addiction is a medical condition for which we can help with treatment and care.
Understanding the situation and how people are affected is another important step to take. Education and awareness and key components of an effective response strategy. Learn more about the opioid emergency and let’s be empathetic to those who are in recovery or in need of help.
Out of a fear of being judged, stigma prevents users from seeking the care and support they need to beat the addiction; so, the best thing we can do is to give support in an appropriate way. Be kind and help end the stigma against substance use disorders.
If you are interested in learning more, the Opioid Response & Management training program is available to everyone for FREE. It offers a program specific to paramedics, and a program to community first responders.