Opioid-related deaths up 48 per cent and other key findings from 2018 Vital Signs

Every year, the Community Foundation for Kingston and area publishes ‘Vital Signs,’ a report card on the health and well-being of the population.

This year marks a decade since the first Vital Signs report was published, allowing the Community Foundation to reflect on some of the areas critical to well-being in the city and region, comparing some of the findings – which are presented as calls to action – from their 2009 report and their 2018 report.

“The Foundation has been producing Vital Signs community reports each year for the past 10 years,” said Tina Bailey, executive director of the Community Foundation for Kingston and Area.

“You really cannot see trends comparing data year over year; but now that we have ten years of data we can look for trends – areas where we are seeing improvements and areas where we are not.”

The 2018 Vital Signs report focuses on “Taking the pulse of our community,” focusing on eight key areas that effect the overall well-being of those in Kingston and the area:

  • Sense of community belonging
  • Charitable donations
  • Walking side by side (towards reconciliation)
  • Poverty and partnerships
  • Community advances
  • Mental and physical health challenges
  • Youth unemployment
  • Immigration and visible minorities

The entire report can be found here, but Kingstonist has distilled the report into some of the most striking and key findings, presented below.



Addiction and opioid use in Kingston

Perhaps the most staggering statistic in the entire Vital Signs report, there was a 46 per cent increase in opioid-related deaths between 2016 and 2017 alone.

“Deaths due to opioid overdose have risen dramatically in the past decade,” the report reads.

“The death rate in KFL&A is higher than the provincial average and has seen a sharp increase since 2015.”

Provincially, the number of opioid-related deaths has increased from 468 in 2017 to 1,263 in 2017. In the Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington (KFL&A) region, there were 24 opioid-related deaths last year, and 181 opioid-related emergency department visits. These statistics come from KFL&A Public Health.

To address this, community partners in KFL&A have an Opioid Action Plan, which identifies the following five “priority initiatives” to work on over the next three years:

  • Target high-risk individuals
  • Provide trauma-informed training to service providers
  • Advocate for opioid and/or naloxone specific needs
  • Increase access, uptake, and use of naloxone kits
  • Support Kingston’s Overdose Prevention Site

Physical health

The obesity rate in Kingston is growing, based on self-reported body mass index rates of those aged 18 or older.

In 2008, the obesity rate in Kingston and the area was one in five; in 2017, that number rose to one in three, and two in three people in the region are either obese or overweight.

The implications of this are important, according to CFKA, because there are a number of issues related to obesity and being overweight. Obesity is the leading cause of Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, arthritis, and cancer.

“Obesity affects peoples’ overall social and economic wellbeing,” the Vital Sign report reads.

“Associated pervasive social stigma and stereotypes result in inequities of access to employment, healthcare, and education.”

Mental health

Although it’s in keeping with the provincial rate, the number of people self-reporting on their mental health as being ‘fair’ or ‘poor.’

In 2008, one in 18 people over the age of 12 in KFL&A reported their mental health as being ‘fair’ or ‘poor.’ In the year from 2015 to 2016, that number rose to one in 12 people.


The Community Foundation makes a point of underlining the association between the three above categories, noting that both obesity and addiction are often linked to poor mental health.

For frontline service workers with Addiction and Mental Health Services KFLA in 2017, that translated to:

  • 6,068 calls to their crisis line
  • 7,690 individuals accessing their services
  • 322 people being provided with housing supports


In the decade between 2005 and 2015, the poverty rates in the Kingston census metropolitan area (CMA) has not improved. In fact, Kingston’s overall poverty rate has increased slightly, from 13 per cent in 2005 to 13.3 per cent in 2015.

For children under the age of 18, 15.5 per cent (or one in seven) were living in poverty in 2015. That rate is similar to findings in 2005, according to the report, but it is also less than the national rates.

Vulnerable populations in the Kingston CMA experience poverty rates over 20 per cent, much higher than the 13 per cent rate for the general population. One in four lone parents will experience poverty in Kingston, which is the same poverty rate for those in the indigenous population, and recent immigrants. One in five of those of a visible minority will experience poverty in Kingston.

More seniors were living in poverty in 2015 than in 2005 (one in 11 in 2015, and one in 10 in 2015). That said, the poverty rate for seniors is lower than the community’s overall rate.

The Vital Signs report points to a projects that has been and will continue to be integral in addressing the poverty rates in Kingston: The Poverty Reduction Initiative, which began in 2010 and involved the United Way KFLA and the Kingston Community Health Centres working closely with stakeholders to develop and action plan. They are now currently implementing a coordinated plan. The Rideau Heights Regeneration Project is part of the Initiative.



Sense of belonging

The overall sense of belonging in the community has risen in the last decade.

In 2008, 68.8 per cent of the population aged 12 and over reported a strong or somewhat strong sense of community belonging in the KFL&A Health Region. The number has increased by nearly five per cent, with 73.5 per cent of the same population reporting a strong or somewhat strong sense of community belonging. This number is on par with the provincial and national rates.

Indigenous population

In 2015, Vital Signs acknowledges the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee and began a conversation with the local indigenous community. At that time, the local indigenous population was estimated to be over 7,000. The 2016 Canadian Census included the option for respondents’ self-identification. The findings of that census show that the local indigenous population (First Nations, Metis, or Inuit) is 5,585.

According to this year’s report, members of the local indigenous community believe that a more realistic number of the indigenous population is closer to 12,000.

Throughout Canada, the number of indigenous peoples from 2006 to 2016 increased at four times the rate of the national population. While the increase is a result of higher birth rates, the population count is also increasing because of the increasing acceptability of self-identification.

However, the local indigenous population is still not experiencing a quality of life the mirrors the rest of the non-indigenous population. The median income for those 15 years or age or older is lower than that of the same age group in the non-indigenous population by approximately $10,000 annually. The prevalence of low income for the indigenous population is 27.2 percent, far higher than that of the non-indigenous population, which is 13.3 per cent. And the unemployment rate for the indigenous population is 12 per cent, compared to that of the non-indigenous population’s unemployment rate of 7.3 per cent.

Active and public transportation use

There was a whopping 82 per cent increase in the number of passengers aboard Kingston transit from 2008 to 2017. In 2008, Kingston Transit provided 3,379,625 rides, which rose to 6,145,809 rides in 2017.

According to the 2016 Census, one in three commuters in the Kingston CMA used “sustainable modes of transportation, including public transit, car-pooling, walking, and cycling.”

In its group of CMAs, “Kingston has the highest proportion of commuters using active transportation and public transit.”

Youth engagement in physical and educational programming

The number of subsidized children that participate in YMCA programming is nearly 17 times higher now than it was nine years ago.

In 2009, 24 subsidized children participated in the YMCA programming; by 2018, 403 children benefited that programming. Those children account for 25 per cent of the youth members at the YMCA in Kingston.

Pathways to Education provides academic support to students who are struggling in the main-stream education system. Over the past decade, the number of students enrolled in Pathways to Education increased by over 435 per cent, from 59 to 316 students.

The pre-Pathways graduation rate for the student cohort enrolled in Pathways to Education was 40 per cent. The expected graduation rate for the Pathways class of 2017-2018 is an outstanding 84 per cent. Of those students, 56 per cent will be the first in their families to graduate, which is key in breaking the poverty cycle.

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