In Canada, a life is lost to opioids every two hours. And communities right across the country are struggling to cope with the public health crisis caused by opioid addictions.

But, amid all that devastation, there are two developments that provide some hope for a brighter future.

To start with, fewer Canadians are being prescribed opioids. The number of new patients being put on these pain medications is also declining. And doctors are prescribing lower dosages for shorter periods of time.

Those welcome trends come from the Canadian Institute for Health Information report released last week that compared data from Ontario, British Columbia and Saskatchewan between 2013 and 2018.

Canada has even managed to lose its long-held position as the second-largest per capita consumer of prescription opioids in the world. Now we’re third behind the runaway leader, the United States, followed by Germany.

That’s important because it’s been estimated that as many as 75 per cent of those who are addicted to opioids got hooked through prescription drugs.

That tragic outcome, combined with the fact that opioids don’t even work particularly well to control chronic pain, means doctors’ prescribing fewer of these drugs is an important step forward.

A second positive development happened in the U.S. this week. An opioid manufacturer and three drug distributors reached a $260-million settlement to avoid a federal trial designed to hold the pharmaceutical industry to account for its role in fuelling the opioid crisis.

This isn’t the first financial settlement and it won’t be the last with thousands of other cases brought by local governments and states still before the courts.

Those legal moves in the U.S. may set a welcome precedent to help settle a Canadian class-action lawsuit launched by B.C., Ontario, and other provinces against numerous pharmaceutical companies and pharmacies.

Every penny that can be wrested from the pharmaceutical industry through these lawsuits should be directed to health care departments that need more funding to prevent overdoses and treat addictions.

For two decades, pharmaceutical companies have misled the public, doctors and patients about how addictive opioids are, never mind how ineffective they are at controlling chronic pain. It will take years of efforts by health care officials and politicians to reverse course and recover from this tragedy.

As the CIHI report states, “the opioid crisis is a complex public health issue.”

That means the bit of good news that its report presented — the trendlines suggesting we’re moving to safer and more appropriate prescribing of opioids — is only part of the solution.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford, in particular, should pay close attention to the other “evidence-based strategies” that the institute’s report highlighted to combat the crisis.

That includes improved access to harm reduction and overdose prevention, such as safe consumption sites; increased resources to treat addictions and mental health conditions; and better access to alternative treatments for chronic pain.

On harm reduction, Ontario has lagged badly under the Ford government.

It has blocked much-needed safe consumption sites from opening and has refused to enact legislation passed by the previous Liberal government that could help prevent some Ontarians from becoming hooked on these drugs through prescriptions.

That doctors are prescribing fewer opioids overall and the pharmaceutical industry is being held to account for the harms it has done is good news.

But dealing with the existing crisis requires provincial governments like Ontario to get on board with making life-saving health care services more available.

There were more than 4,500 opioid-related deaths in Canada last year. Ontario needs to do its part to make sure those numbers decline.