Opioid-Related Harms in PEI

Opioids are drugs that include prescribed pain relievers but also illegal drugs. Patients can benefit from opioids that are prescribed and used properly. When opioids are misused, they can be deadly.

Highly toxic opioids like fentanyl may be put in illegally produced drugs and consumed unknowingly, leading to overdose. In Canada, opioid-related overdoses and deaths are on the rise.

Presented here are the most recent available data on opioid-related harms in PEI, based on multiple data sources . This information helps inform program planning and identify any increases in opioid-related harms, including overdoses and deaths.

Opioid-Related Island EMS Statistics in PEI

Opioid-related statistics from Island EMS (IEMS) data are posted here on a quarterly schedule. 

IEMS data is one of several data sources the Chief Public Health Office (CPHO) uses to conduct surveillance of the complex opioid overdose situation in Prince Edward Island. IEMS data captures suspected opioid-related overdoses that hospital-based data may not capture. 

The first complete calendar year of reporting from IEMS to the CPHO was 2023. This data should be interpreted with caution, as over the course of the year, continuous improvements were made to data collection and opioid-related case identification. 

2023 Island EMS responses

Summary of 2023 data: 

  • Paramedics responded to 137 suspected opioid-related overdose patients
  • 107 suspected opioid-related overdose patients were administered naloxone
  • Of those who were administered naloxone, 90 (84%) responded positively to naloxone   
Time Period     Number of suspected opioid-related overdose patients responded to by IEMS1 Number and percent of suspected opioid-related overdose patients that were administered naloxone2 Number and percent of patients that were administered naloxone and responded positively3
January to March 2024 44 29 (66%) 23 (52%)
October to December 2023 44 36 (82%) 32 (73%)
July to September 2023 54 40 (74%) 34 (63%)
April to June 2023 21 19 (90%) 14 (67%)
January to March 2023 18 12 (67%) 10 (56%)

1IEMS calls disclosed as suspected opioid-related are identified from all 911 patients where paramedics made contact and completed a Patient Care Report (PCR). Cases are further filtered through the following inclusion and exclusion criteria: 

  • Inclusion Criteria: (1) All patients identified with primary, secondary, or final problem codes of “drug/alcohol overdose,” “opioid overdose suspected,” “non-opioid overdose,” “substance misuse/intoxication,” “overdose ingestion,” “stimulant overdose,” AND/OR (2) documentation of naloxone administration. 
  • Exclusion Criteria: (1) Calls outside of the reporting period, (2) cases where the primary purpose of the call is related to a request for treatment services, withdrawal management services or assistance with social or psychiatric issues, a non-acute situation, strong evidence of or a stated intent that the overdose was intentional or related to self-harm (unless expressed post-intoxication), related to an injury sustained while intoxicated and not the intoxication itself, and calls related to a patient accidentally taking an extra dose of medication when the extra medication is to have little clinical impact on the patient. 

Patients are determined from suspected intoxicants, including opioids and/or a history of naloxone administration prior to arrival or by a paramedic. Suspected intoxicants are based on information provided by the patient, bystanders, or otherwise collected at the scene. Intoxicants are not based on patient laboratory results.

2The number of patients that receive naloxone may be a modest overestimation of the actual number of opioid overdoses, as patients are administered naloxone when signs of a decreased level of consciousness are identified. However, a decreased level of consciousness may not be indicative of an opioid overdose. Most confirmed instances of opioid-related overdoses (reported since 2017) and deaths (reported since 2016) involved mixed toxicology (multiple substances). 

3Naloxone only reverses overdoses from opioids (heroin, fentanyl, prescription medication, etc.). Thus, those who respond positively (increased level of consciousness) to naloxone indicate they were experiencing an opioid-related overdose. Caution should be used with this interpretation due to cases of mixed toxicology with opioids, where naloxone will reverse the effect of opioids but not other substances present (for example: tranquilizers or benzodiazepines). 

Opioid-Related Overdose and Death Statistics in PEI 

Opioid-related non-fatal overdose and death surveillance reports from Emergency Departments and the Chief Coroner’s Office are posted here on a quarterly schedule. 

Data for non-fatal overdoses has been comprised of cases from the PEI Trauma Registry and Prince County Hospital and Queen Elizabeth Hospital Emergency Departments1. Data for deaths are complied with assistance from Health PEI Laboratory Services and the Chief Coroner’s Office. 

Cases may differ from those included in paramedic data provided by Island EMS.

Data provided in the table regarding deaths is also published nationally in association with the Public Health Agency of Canada. 

Time Period Number of accidental opioid-related non-fatal overdoses in PEI2 Number of accidental apparent opioid-related deaths in PEI3 Percent of accidental apparent opioid-related deaths involving fentanyl or fentanyl analogues
October to December 2023 11 24 50%4
July to September 2023 19 34 33%4
April to June 2023 8 04 0%4
January to March 2023 10 24 0%4
2022 36 6 17%
2021 25 12 0%
2020 19 8 50%
2019 5 5 0%
2018 24 8 13%
2017 105 5 0%
2016 not available 5 20%

1Data is received from the PEI Trauma Registry directly or through regular updates from the National Ambulatory Care Reporting System (NACRS): https://www.cihi.ca/en/national-ambulatory-care-reporting-system-nacrs-metadata 

2Accidental/unintentional overdoses involving opioids does not include overdoses that occurred as a result of intentional self-inflicted harm.

3Accidental/unintentional deaths involving opioids does not include deaths that occurred as a result of intentional self-inflicted harm; only closed (certified) cases are reported.

4Death investigations can take 12 to 18 months to complete. Data for 2023 are incomplete and numbers may increase as coroner investigations continue.  

5Surveillance by the Chief Public Health Office of toxicological cases presenting to PEI’s emergency departments began in May 2017.

Published date: 
June 3, 2024