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Joint Statement by the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada, Dr. Theresa Tam, and Assistant Secretary for Health Admiral Rachel Levine, MD, on Substance Use and Harms During COVID-19

Today, the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada, Dr. Theresa Tam, and the United States Assistant Secretary for Health, Admiral Rachel Levine, MD, issued the following joint statement on the release of a white paper on substance use and harms:

Canada and the United States (U.S.) continue to face an ongoing crisis of overdose deaths. Since January 2016, opioid toxicity has claimed the lives of more than 30,000 people in Canada. In the United States, 91,799 people died due to drug overdose in 2020 alone, with 74.8% of those deaths involving an opioid. Unfortunately, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, both countries have seen major challenges from substance-related harms and deaths.

Canada and the U.S. collaborate under the Canada-U.S. Joint Action Plan on Opioids (APO) within the areas of law enforcement, border security, and health. Today, the APO’s Health Working Group is releasing a joint Canada-U.S. white paper, Substance Use and Harms During COVID-19 and Approaches to Federal Surveillance and Response, as a collaborative product.

The white paper examines rapid and innovative approaches used by both countries to monitor substance use trends during the pandemic. It includes information on substance use harms and deaths in Canada and the U.S., the impact of COVID-19 on the opioids crisis, and policy responses to address substance use from the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic to September 2022.

Substance use harms are a prominent global public health issue that extends beyond North America. For many countries, preventing substance use harms has been a longstanding challenge— one made more challenging in the context of a global pandemic.  During the COVID-19 pandemic, both Canada and the U.S. experienced an increase in rates of substance use harms and deaths beyond already high pre-pandemic levels. This can be attributed, in part, to a decrease in access to supports and services for people who use substances at the onset of the pandemic. At the same time, increasing feelings of isolation, stress, and anxiety and an increase in the toxicity of the drug supply contributed to higher rates of deaths in both countries. Tracking and understanding trends in substance use can help guide policies and programs to reduce harm and save lives.

Our collaboration on this white paper demonstrates our continued commitment to address the overdose crisis together so people in our respective countries can live to their full potential. The 2021 Roadmap for a Renewed Canada-U.S. Partnership, by Prime Minister Trudeau and President Biden, reaffirmed our commitment to work together to find effective approaches to shared challenges, including those related to substance use.  This joint white paper sets the stage for further exchanges of important information, lessons learned, and ultimately continued collaboration to address overdose deaths in both our countries.

Dr. Theresa Tam

Chief Public Health Officer, Canada

Public Health Agency of Canada

Admiral Rachel Levine, MD

Assistant Secretary for Health, United States

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

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Author: ASH Media

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