KITCHENER -- New data from Region of Waterloo Public Health officials shows the number of overdose deaths this year has already outpaced the numbers from 2019 and 2018.

According to statistics from the region, there have been 64 deaths so far in 2020. In 2019, the region reported 63 overdose deaths. In 2018, there were 61.

Officials are concerned the death toll could surpass the 86 deaths that were recorded back in 2017.

At an online panel on Wednesday, health officials and front-line responders discussed the crisis.

Officials say the COVID-19 pandemic is partly to blame, because more people are using alone. There are also fewer services offered downtown and fewer people are coming to Consumption and Treatment Services.

The panel also agreed a lack of compassion could be contributing to the number of deaths.

"The effect of an OD death spreads around the harm reduction community," nurse Emma Horner with the Sanguen Health Centre said. "They grieve the losses like everyone else."

"We like to promote the message that nice people use drugs, that everyone's life has value and not only is overdose far too frequent a tragedy in this region and across the country, but it's an entirely preventable one."

Many on the panel also agreed that a safe drug supply would save lives. They're advocating to bring such a program to the region.