Hospital workers

Fewer than 1,400 Canadians under the age of 65 have died from Covid-19, yet thousands more have perished from the side effects of pandemic-driven lockdowns, new data from Statistics Canada suggests.

In a new report, the national statistical agency examined excess mortality in people 64 and younger since the start of the pandemic. There have been 5,535 more deaths than expected in the 12 months to April 2021.

Over the same period, there were 1,380 deaths for that age group attributed to Covid-19, it said, “suggesting that the excess mortality is, in large part, related to other factors such as increases in the number deaths attributed to causes associated with substance use and misuse, including unintentional (accidental) poisonings and diseases and conditions related to alcohol consumption.”

For instance, StatsCan reported that accidental poisoning deaths reached a new high during the pandemic, driven particularly by increases in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta, amid evidence that substance abuse increased in those provinces during the pandemic and access to harm reduction programs and other support services was disrupted.

At the height of the opioid crisis in 2017, the annual mortality rate from accidental poisonings was 10.2 deaths per 100,000 people, StatsCan said. Yet, provisional data for 2020 indicated that the rate during the pandemic was 11.3 deaths per 100,000.

Deaths from opioid, narcotic and hallucinogen overdoses, and from overdoses of unspecified drugs or drug combinations, both rose in 2020, accounting for 88% of unintentional poisoning deaths last year.

At the same time, the number and rate of alcohol-induced deaths among people under the age of 65 also increased in 2020, StatsCan reported.

“As with deaths attributed to accidental poisoning, the disruption of support programs and services to reduce alcohol use may also have been a factor contributing to the rise in alcohol-induced deaths during the pandemic,” StatsCan said.

“Also, the economic, social, and psychological impacts of the pandemic as well as the public health measures in place may have played a role in increasing alcohol use among some individuals,” it noted.