Meth-related ER visits in Ontario skyrocketed over 17-year period: study

In 2003, there were a total of 233 amphetamine-related visits to an emergency department, which skyrocketed to 4,146 in 2020. (Courtesy: Canva)

Ontario saw a nearly 15-fold increase in amphetamine-related visits to the emergency department (ED) from 2003 to 2020, according to a new report. 

The study, which was published in The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, highlights the stark rise in amphetamine, also known as meth, related visits to the ED over that 17-year time period and warns that the increasing rate is a cause for concern.

In 2003, there were a total of 233 amphetamine-related visits to an ED, which skyrocketed to 4,146 in 2020, marking a 1,367.9 per cent increase.  

During that time period, males had more amphetamine-related ED visits than females, with the 2020 male ED visit rate 2.3 times that of the rate for females.

Ontario residents under 40 years old visited the ED more frequently than older adults over time, according to the study. Nearly three-quarters of individuals were younger than 40 years of age, while only 8.7 per cent were 50-plus. 

However, meth-related ED visits increased at a slower rate among younger adults (18–24 years) between 2015 and 2020. 

“The population-based rate of amphetamine-related ED visits increased by 78.3% for individuals aged 18–24 years between 2015 and 2020, whereas this rate increased more sharply among individuals aged 25–39 years (25–29 years: 176.6%; 30–34 years: 221.8%; 35–39 years: 285.4%),” reads the study. 

There were more than 9,800 ED visits between January 1, 2019, and June 30, 2020, where an amphetamine-related diagnosis was documented. Out of the 5,006 unique patients that remained in the analytical cohort during that time period, more than half reported prior substance use. 

“Almost half of all individuals were diagnosed with a mood (47.4%) or psychotic disorder (44.7%), while 70.2% experienced anxiety. Prior opioid (31.4%) and other substance use (53.4%) was common,” the study said. 

The report concludes that individuals who visit the ED for amphetamine-related reasons and are diagnosed with psychosis and/or use of other substances could benefit from referrals to primary and specialty care, which in turn may reduce avoidable ED visits. 

“Future studies should examine the actual need for amphetamine-related ED care, explore opportunities to remove healthcare barriers for marginalized populations, and develop validated approaches for detecting amphetamine use in administrative claims data,” the study adds.

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