A new study indicates that Statistics Canada data can be used to determine prescription opioid-related deaths and aid public health. The research is published in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).

Canada, unlike the United States, lacks coherent national statistics on opioid-related deaths because information on prescription opioid-related deaths is collected locally, rather than provincially or nationally.

"In the absence of existing surveillance of prescription opioid-related harms in Canada, the finding that readily available national vital statistics data can be used to study prescription opioid-related deaths is of considerable public health and policy importance," writes Tara Gomes, Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, St. Michael's Hospital, Toronto, Ontario, with coauthors.

Researchers conducted a large, population-based study that identified all deaths from opioid overdose over 8 years in Ontario, Canada's largest province. They describe an algorithm for identifying opioid-related deaths in the Statistics Canada Vital Statistics Death Database that has a high degree of sensitivity and specificity. The algorithm may be useful to researchers across Canada who are seeking to identify opioid-related deaths.

The authors note that, despite some limitations, vital statistics data can help fill important gaps in information about prescription opioid-related deaths.