Through the first four months of 2017, the number of fatal opioid overdoses in Waterloo Region was higher than in every full year except for 2016.

In 2016, the region saw 38 confirmed opioid-related deaths. That number marked a significant increase over the 23 overdose deaths reported in 23, and the 22 seen in the two years before that.

The 65 per cent increase is significantly higher than the 19 per cent increase in such deaths reported across Ontario.

According to the Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council, 28 deaths between January and April 2017 are suspected to have been caused by opioid overdoses.

Michael Parkinson of the crime prevention council says he believes the rise can be attributed to the increasing prominence of fentanyl – particularly bootleg fentanyl, which can be mixed in with non-opioid drugs.

“We see these substances imported from China, mixed into other drugs by amateur chemists, and increasingly available on the black market,” Parkinson says.

Parkinson says the number of deaths from opioid overdoses is increasing even as the number of opioids being prescribed is leveling off.