May 6th, 2021

// Hospital visits for substance use increased during the first months of the pandemic

Hospital visits for substance use increased during the first months of the pandemic

TORONTO, May 06, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- More Canadians required hospital care for harm caused by substances such as alcohol, opioids and stimulants between March and September 2020, compared with the same period in 2019, according to new preliminary data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI).

There were close to 81,000 hospital stays for harm caused by substances, representing an increase of about 4,000, compared with the previous year.

The findings also reveal the disproportionate burden of the pandemic on certain populations, with men and people from low-income neighbourhoods showing the largest increase in hospital stays for substance-related harm. For example, alcohol-related hospitalizations increased the most in the lowest-income areas (by 14%), while there was almost no change in the highest-income areas.

The data shows an increase in hospitalizations for alcohol but a reduction in emergency department (ED) visits, particularly among younger age groups.

Key findings

  • Hospitalizations due to alcohol harms increased by 5% (from 42,334 in 2019 to 44,506 in 2020), but ED visits for alcohol consumption decreased by 11% (from 109,784 in 2019 to 98,060 in 2020). The decrease in ED visits was greatest among younger age groups, with visits dropping by 33% among those age 10 to 19, and by 17% among those age 20 to 29. This is in line with other CIHI findings that show ED visits have decreased overall during the pandemic.
  • ED visits for opioid poisonings increased (by 16%), as did hospitalizations (by 13%).


“During the first 7 months of the pandemic, some services that help people cope with substance use, such as harm reduction programs and substance-related therapies, were operating at reduced capacity or were temporarily closed. The reduction in available services could be one factor that influenced the rise in hospital treatment for opioid poisonings.” 
— Tracy Johnson, Director, Health System Analysis and Emerging Issues, Canadian Institute for Health Information

“Usually, when people come to the ED for alcohol, they do so because of acute alcohol intoxication, which tends to happen at high-risk events such as bars and parties. What we’ve been seeing since the onset of the pandemic is that with bars closed and parties shut down, there has been a decrease in ED visits.” 
— Catherine Paradis, Senior Research and Policy Analyst, Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction

Additional resources

About CIHI
The Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) is an independent, not-for-profit organization dedicated to providing essential health information to all Canadians.

CIHI works closely with federal, provincial and territorial partners and stakeholders throughout Canada to gather, package and disseminate information to inform policy, management, care and research, leading to better and more equitable health outcomes for all Canadians.

Health information has become one of society’s most valuable public goods. For more than 25 years, CIHI has set the pace on data privacy, security, accessibility and innovation to improve Canada’s health systems.

CIHI: Better data. Better decisions. Healthier Canadians.


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