OTTAWA — Canada's chief public health officer says the opioid crisis is responsible for limiting Canadians' life expectancy.
In a report released Tuesday, Dr. Theresa Tam says life expectancy has been steadily on the rise in Canada but she warns that life expectancy in B.C. is decreasing — the province hit hardest by the opioid crisis.
Tam said in an interview that there has been about 1,000 deaths related to the opioid crisis in the first quarter of 2018, saying it's on track to see the same numbers as last year, which saw nearly 4,000 Canadians die from apparent opioid overdoses.
The significant number of B.C. deaths caused by opioid overdoses, particularly among men, is going to have an impact on broader life expectancy rates, she said
Tam said the department is still working on national calculations, to get a broader view of the statistics that have been revealed in B.C., and added that one might expect to see similar numbers at the national level.
"Every province in Canada has experienced the impacts of the opioid crisis, so I think we would expect that dip in life expectancy gains that we see in B.C., maybe not in the same level of magnitude," said Tam.
Tam's report, focusing on alcohol, cannabis and opioid use among youth, also says the drop in life expectancy is more prominent among men and Canadians living in poorer neighbourhoods.
Men in their 20s, 30s and up to age 49, particularly in B.C., are particularly vulnerable, she said.
Tam said Canada needs to apply a gender-based approach in analysing why men are disproportionately impacted.
"I think we do need different approaches to address the gender-based uniqueness of the impact," said Tam.
Tam said in the report that Canadian regulations coming soon that will restrict marketing and advertising of opioids to health-care practitioners, "may help" reduce over prescribing of the drugs.
What Canada learned from tobacco in terms of regulation, restricting access and denormalizing its use needs to be applied to cannabis to ensure it isn't further normalized, Tam added.
"We need to monitor that," she said, adding that alcohol may be the most neglected drug that is overly normalized, especially among teens.
Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor said today that she supports Tam's call for a co-ordinated approach across departments to prevent substance abuse among youth.
Tam said it's important to ensure cannabis isn't attractive to youth, and especially to those who use the drug to cope with stress.
"Tackling every drug issue at the time of a crisis is not where I want to go and we need to go upstream and get to prevention."
Janice Dickson, The Canadian Press