The steep price of not treating Canada’s opioid crisis

The toll of the opioid crisis begins in the home and community, destroying lives, picking away at the very fabric which holds us together as a people. From there, the collateral damage extends into the economy and our civic institutions, imposing a financial and economic burden that impacts many sectors.

The Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction, and the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research, published a collaborative paper on Canadian Substance Use Costs and Harms in 2018 that gave a snapshot of the price of “substance use (SU).” The report includes healthcare costs, lost productivity costs, criminal justice costs and other direct costs associated with substance use and its rippling effects.

In 2014, the cost of substance use in Canada was $38.4 billion—or approximately $1,100 spent for every Canadian, regardless of age. Opioids contributed to $3.5 billion or 9.1% of those total costs, representing the third-largest portion of the total, after alcohol and tobacco.

The cost per province differs, with the three territories – YukonNorthwest Territories and Nunavut – claiming some of the highest cost-per-person, followed by British ColumbiaAlberta and Saskatchewan.

By 2017, substance use in Canada cost the country a whopping $46 billion, or $1260 per Canadian. Up to $6 billion of that, or $163 per person, is attributed to opioid use.


The Cost of Opioid-Related Lost Productivity and Death in Canada

While opioids trail behind alcohol and tobacco in total healthcare costs, according to the Canadian Substance Use Costs and Harms report, the largest per-person lost productivity costs are associated with opioids, which increased 20.6% from $43 per person in 2007 to $52 per person in 2014.

Estimates of substance use-related lost productivity costs represent the lost value of work due to premature mortality, long-term disability and short-term disability (absenteeism and impaired job performance). This increase is likely due to the increasing number of premature deaths related to opioid use.

Nationally, the rate of apparent opioid-related deaths was 7.9 per 100 000 population in 2016. However, there were pronounced differences between provinces, with western Canada reporting some of the highest death rates. Based on available data, British Columbia and Alberta account for the majority (56%) of opioid-related deaths in 2016.

Statistics indicate that most apparent opioid-related deaths in Canada occurred among males; individuals between 30 and 39 accounted for the most significant proportion, meaning young, working-age people are being taken from their families and the economy prematurely.

Today, the opioid crisis is experiencing a widely-reported spike and continues to affect a broadening section of the population. The consequences of this hastening crisis have the power to negatively impact individuals, their families, their employers, and their healthcare teams. We already know that opioid dependency indiscriminately crosses demographic and socioeconomic lines, although treatment modalities tend to draw those lines and create barriers based on who can afford the treatments.

Medicated-Assisted Treatment programs, in which a person consumes a daily maintenance dose of methadone, can cost up to $6000 a year – and that is in the best-case scenario. Addiction treatment centers that utilize the 12-step model can cost up to $650 per day, many of which require the patient to stay at the clinic for 60 to 90 days of detox, followed by recovery work. Many have wondered, due to the observed efficacy and safety profile of psychedelic medicines, if psychedelic-assisted therapy can ease the socioeconomic burden of addiction.

Are Psychedelics a Cost-Affordable Solution to the Opioid Epidemic?

Can a psychedelic substance be cost-effective, safe enough, and have enough positive patient outcomes that it helps reduce the amount of money needed to care for drug-dependent Canadians? It’s something that the Entheon wonders, and is working on.

Kenneth Tupper, Ph.D., is Entheon’s Advisor of Ethics as well as the Director of Substance Use Prevention & Harm Reduction at the British Columbia Ministry of Health. Dr. Tupper was one of the authors of a paper based on a 2013 study undertaken by the Centre for Addictions Research of British Columbia at the University of Victoria. The study set out to show the efficacy of ayahuasca-assisted therapy in addiction treatment, specifically for those with chronic addictive behaviours. In the study, patients made statistically significant improvements in several factors related to problematic substance use among the participants. These findings suggest that participants experienced substantial positive psychological and behavioural changes in response to this therapeutic approach.

Entheon is developing medicines based on DMT, the psychoactive ingredient within traditionally-brewed Ayahuasca tea. Entheon Biomedical is researching and developing a legal DMT therapeutic protocol that is being specifically designed to treat substance-abuse disorders, and will specifically focus on opioid-use disorder in coming pre-clinical and clinical trials The path of treating the underlying mechanisms of substance-use disorder with psychedelic therapies is well-known in the traditional and naturalistic psychedelic space, but this environment remains unregulated and cannot be easily scaled to serve the expanding group of substance-use sufferers who require treatment.  Many mainstream medical practitioners are just now becoming aware of the potential of psychedelics to treat disorders of this nature, and much work is being done to further validate psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy, both privately and publicly, which is both crucial and exciting, for as the threat of opioid abuse grows in power and strength, so to must the solutions we develop and implement.

Learn More

Learn more about the personal and social costs associated with the opioid crisis here.

Please see this Canada’s Opioid Crisis fact sheet for official facts about the opioid crisis in Canada.