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Stimulant Use and Risks to People Who Use Drugs Occasionally

Stimulant Use and People Who Use Drugs Occasionally: High Risk of Overdose and Death

People who use drugs occasionally are just as vulnerable to the Toxic Drug Crisis as people with Substance Use Disorder (SUD) and those who use drugs chronically. Occasional users are most likely to use drugs at special events or in private to mark an occasion, and these are usually stimulants like cocaine and MDMA – both which may have methamphetamine cut in. Opioids are also found mixed with stimulants. Keep in mind that stimulant use disorder is common and costs more than $85 billion per year globally.

Poly-Substance Toxicity

According to the Government of Canada, “just under half (48%) of accidental apparent opioid toxicity deaths so far in 2023 (January-March) also involved a stimulant.” Awareness of stimulant-related deaths is important because those who use drugs occasionally may think that occasional use has few health consequences, but because of the Toxic Drug Crisis, most stimulants are poly-substance and may also contain opioids like fentanyl: “Among accidental stimulant-related poisoning hospitalizations so far in 2023 (January-March), 62% involved co-poisoning with an opioid.” In “…stimulant-related poisoning hospitalizations, fentanyl and its analogues were involved in 40% of accidental stimulant-related poisoning hospitalizations.”

Accidental Poisoning

Awareness of the Toxic Drug Crisis should be spread amongst everyone, as anyone can be affected. The Government of Canada states “…almost all (99%) apparent stimulant toxicity deaths so far in 2023 (January-March) were accidental.” In a 2016-2018 study by the BC Coroners Service, 19% of these deaths were occasional users. Though we do not have statistics on occasional users in 2023, if this ratio holds, that would mean 18% of accidental deaths were those who decided to use drugs as a social or experimental act.

Breaking the Stigma

In 2022, 55% of drug poisoning and overdose deaths were in private residences – meaning these deaths were not unhoused people who are overrepresented when discussing this health crisis. Only 15% of illicit drug toxicity deaths occurred at outdoor locations. Another study covering overdose deaths in 2014-2016 found that males aged 25 to 45 years who were employed during the five years before overdose and have high income levels had the highest rate of fatal overdoses. This is poignant because those who infrequently observe the Toxic Drug Crisis often think that themselves or their loved ones could never be a victim because they do not know anyone with SUD or anyone unhoused or low income. These statistics reveal that anyone can be affected by unregulated drugs, and awareness of these facts is a step forward to ending the Toxic Drug Crisis.