Evidence of increased Fentanyl use during the COVID-19 pandemic among opioid agonist treatment patients in Ontario, Canada

Int J Drug Policy. 2021 Apr;90:103088. doi: 10.1016/j.drugpo.2020.103088. Epub 2020 Dec 23.


Background: Amid the opioid crisis, the health care system is restructuring to prevent and treat COVID-19. Individuals in opioid agonist treatment (OAT) are uniquely challenged because of disruption to treatment, medication diversion, and isolation during the pandemic.

Methods: Between January and September 2020, we utilized the electronic medical record from a chain of 67 opioid agonist treatment clinics in Ontario, Canada, to examine routinely collected urine drug screen results of patients in opioid agonist treatment by Public Health Units.

Results: We present evidence of a 108% increase in the percentage of fentanyl positive urine drug screens from April to September (p< 0.001). During the same period, health regions in northern and southwestern Ontario, areas with a high concentration of rural communities, have seen the most notable increase in the percent of fentanyl positive urine drug screen results.

Conclusion: The use of fentanyl increased by 108% among OAT patients in Ontario during the COVID 19 pandemic. We argue that the persistent increase of fentanyl exposure over time, specifically in the OAT population, suggests that reduced monitoring may decrease OAT's effectiveness and negatively impact patient outcomes.

Keywords: COVID-19; Fentanyl; Opioid agonist treatment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use*
  • Analgesics, Opioid / urine*
  • COVID-19*
  • Fentanyl / urine*
  • Humans
  • Ontario
  • Opiate Substitution Treatment*
  • Opioid Epidemic*
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / diagnosis
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / rehabilitation*
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / urine
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Substance Abuse Detection*
  • Substance Abuse Treatment Centers*
  • Urinalysis


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Fentanyl