The province’s health minister confirmed on Wednesday there have been four known accidental overdoses since the beginning of 2020, three of which have been linked to fentanyl.
James Aylward provided the information to the legislature in response to a question raised by Progressive Conservative MLA Cory Deagle on Tuesday. Aylward said the one overdose not linked to fentanyl was reversed using naloxone and did not have any toxicology performed.
Deagle said he had been in contact with family members of an individual who had died due to a fentanyl-related overdose. Deagle told the legislature that the family members were upset that provincial health officials had not made public the fact that an individual had died due to an overdose.
“Their feeling was that sharing more information might help prevent the tragedy in the future,” Deagle said.
“Why would there be a reluctance from the province to acknowledge this, and what can we do going forward to address this issue?”
In response, Aylward said public health officials did not release details about overdose fatalities due to privacy concerns. The province does list details about overdoses and related deaths but often only lists these numbers on a quarterly or sometimes yearly basis.
“We simply do not make those announcements, but what we do is the Chief Public Health Office puts a media release out warning that there is a substance such as fentanyl or carfentanil being introduced into the drug system here on P.E.I.,” Aylward said.
Opioid overdoses and related deaths in P.E.I.
Overdoses Related deaths
- 2020* 4 1
- 2019 5 5
- 2018 25 7
- 2017 10 5
Source: Department Health and Wellness
In 2019, P.E.I. recorded five accidental overdoses, including one linked to fentanyl. There were five deaths recorded linked to accidental overdoses, but none were conclusively linked to fentanyl.
Aylward also revealed that he has had family members who have struggled with opiate addiction.
“As a matter of fact, my sister and my 26-year-old nephew did a live interview with Global television yesterday to talk about their experience in Alberta with opiate addictions during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Aylward said.
“So, it is a very, very important topic, it’s paramount that we do everything that we can to keep these terrible drugs off our streets.”
Chief public health officer Dr. Heather Morrison had stated in a news conference earlier in May that fentanyl had been linked to three accidental overdoses in P.E.I. in one day. The news was intended as a warning to individuals with opioid dependency.
In other regions of Canada, particularly in B.C., the illicit supply of opioids has been contaminated with fentanyl, a potent pain medication. As accidental overdoses often take place when individuals use opioids alone, public health officials have raised alarm about the heightened risks related to isolating at home. The province has introduced protocols for a "safe supply" of prescription drugs, but some have said there is difficulty in accessing this supply for individuals with opioid dependency.
In an interview, Deagle said P.E.I. should reveal public details about opioid fatalities on a more timely basis. He pointed to the regularly updated reports and warnings issued by public health officials and coroners in other provinces.
"How can we fight this issue if we can't admit that we have one?" Deagle said.