The Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) has released new numbers indicating that 20,000 Albertans were hospitalized in one year due to harm caused by substance use, including alcohol and drugs.“What that tells us is that harmful substance use is a big health issue — and we’ve learned it’s a very complex issue,” said Kathleen Morris, vice-president of research and analysis at CIHI.In many cases, these hospitalizations are related to mental health issues and factors such as income, education, and housing, CIHI reported.The released first-year results measure access to mental health and addictions services and to home and community care — areas highlighted by the federal government in 2017 to receive $11 billion over 10 years. CIHI gathered national and provincial data on the first three main health indicators of 12 chosen by the federal, provincial and territorial health ministries in consultation with experts and people with lived experience beginning in April 2017.“It gives us a snapshot picture, and we can track over time how the indicator results change,” said Morris.Every day, more than 400 Canadians were hospitalized due to harm caused by alcohol or drugs, more than the number of hospital stays for heart attacks and strokes combined, according to the CIHI report.The harm caused by alcohol eclipsed that of all other substances, according to the data.“Alcohol is a big piece of the story across the country,” said Morris. In Alberta, it accounts for 60 per cent of hospitalizations due to the harm caused by substance use.After alcohol, cannabis and opioids were among the top drugs leading to hospital stays for substance use in adults in the country. For children and youth, these hospital stays were more likely to be caused by cannabis than by alcohol or other substances.“One of the things that happens with cannabis is that people are hospitalized for what is called psychosis — something like anxiety, paranoia or delusions. Those are usually short term, but there is some research regarding the connection between cannabis and some patients who might be more vulnerable,” said Morris.Substance use impacts Canadians of all income levels. However, frequent emergency room visitors for mental health or addictions care were nearly four times more likely to live in lower-income neighbourhoods than higher-income ones, CIHI also found.“It’s important to note that the people who are visiting (the hospital) are quite ill. So the real question is, is there a mix of services that could have been provided much earlier to help them avoid the situation where they needed hospital care or to get help much earlier?” said Morris.The data also shows that, while more than 90 per cent had access to home care services as soon as they were ready to be discharged from hospital, one in 12 patients had their stay extended because the services or supports were not ready.This is the equivalent of three large hospitals filled each day with people who did not need hospital care, according to the CIHI.“I think it shows how important home care is in terms of helping people leave hospital,” said Morris.