During the height of the COVID-19 lockdown in Ontario, Canada, the proportion of mandatory, routine drug screens imposed on opioid use disorder (OUD) patients that returned positive results for fentanyl more than doubled.

9 Jan 2021

Between April and September 2020, 67 opioid agonist therapy (OAT) clinics logged a 108 percent increase in fentanyl-positive drug screens, according to a study published on December 23, 2020 in the International Journal of Drug Policy. The apparent spike in use of the potent opioid—which adulterates North America’s unregulated drug supply and is heavily involved in the unprecedented overdose crisis—alarmed the researchers.


Affirming the concerns of public health experts and harm reductionists, the study’s results, the researchers suggest, may be attributable to patients losing access to OAT services, navigating “unfamiliar drug networks due to temporary shortages in their usual supply,” or coping with “pandemic-related stress, anxiety and isolation.”

The fentanyl-exposure spike was most prominent in Ontario’s rural regions, like those in the north and southwest, potentially highlighting longstanding disparities. “These findings are especially alarming because patients in northern Ontario already face significant barriers to accessing treatment due to well-documented geographic characteristics, contributing to reduced access to care and limited health and human resources,” the study authors wrote.

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