Hospitalizations for substance use went up 16% in Manitoba during 1st 6 months of pandemic

No other province saw a sharper rise in hospitalizations for substance use than Manitoba did during the first six months of the COVID-19 pandemic, new data shows.

The Canadian Institute for Health Information, a non-profit that provides information about health care in Canada, released a report Thursday about impacts on harms caused by substance use from the pandemic.

It analyzed provincial and territorial emergency department and hospital data from March 2020 to September 2020, compared to the same period the year before.

“The trends for substance use are pretty consistent across all of the provinces,” CIHI spokesperson Tracy Johnson told CBC News. “We see a decrease in visits to the [emergency department] for substance use, but an increase in hospitalizations.”

In Manitoba, total hospitalizations due to substance harm increased by 16 per cent from 2019 — from 2,917 to 3,388. That’s the biggest percentage increase in the country and well above the national rate, which went up five per cent.

More than half of the hospitalizations — 1,952 — in the first six months of the pandemic were alcohol-related. That is an increase of nearly 20 per cent from the 1,640 alcohol-related hospitalizations in Manitoba in 2019, data shows.

Hospitalizations for opioids increased by 28 per cent, rising from 244 hospitalizations to 313 in March 2020 to September 2020. That’s by far the largest jump in the country, which saw an overall increase of seven per cent. 

Cannabis-related hospitalizations rose from 374 to 421, while slightly more people were admitted to hospital for cocaine use. Cocaine hospitalizations rose from 173 to 190, data shows.

There were 347 hospitalizations caused by “unknown/multiple substances,” data shows.

There was a slight decrease in the number of hospitalizations from 603 to 602 caused by “other [central nervous system] stimulants,” which includes drugs such as crack and methamphetamine.

Data from Manitoba’s emergency departments were not included in the CIHI report, but generally “emergency department visits mirror COVID-19 cases in the community,” said Johnson.

“As soon as there’s a peak in COVID cases or we see them start to rise, people automatically are cutting back on going to emergency departments,” she said.

“It may be because it coincides with lockdowns a bit, so people are doing less and their conditions aren’t being aggravated, or it can just be that they’re self-monitoring and changing behaviour.”

Hospitalizations fluctuated as COVID-19 cases rose and fell, said Johnson. (Getty Images)

Generally, men and people who are low-income were disproportionately impacted, the report says.

Johnson notes that the data only tells part of the story. More is currently being gathered and another report will be released in several months, she said.

But the data does show that substance use during the pandemic is an issue that needs monitoring and that there may be gaps in the primary health care that need to be shored up, she said.

“You don’t see this kind of a change in numbers so dramatically over such a short period of time ever,” said Johnson.

“The pandemic has really turned a lot of things on end.”