Pubdate: Sat, 04 Feb 2017
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2017 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Karen Howlett
Page: A13


As wave of overdoses spreads across country, senior governments must
'step up their health responsibilities,' Vancouver mayor says

Mayors of Canada's largest cities are calling for a nationwide
emergency response to an epidemic of opioid overdose deaths
devastating many communities.

The big-city mayors of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities
launched a task force on Friday, and called on the federal and
provincial governments to help turn the tide on the epidemic,
including funding more treatment programs for people addicted to opioids.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, chair of the task force representing
municipal leaders of 12 cities, said Ottawa and the provinces are not
doing enough to stop a "horrific loss" of lives. "We need to push them
harder to step up their health responsibilities and treat this like a
true national health crisis," Mr. Robertson said in an interview.

British Columbia has been hardest hit by the crisis, which began in
2012 with the arrival of illicit fentanyl smuggled into Canada from
China. In 2016, 914 people in the province died of opioid overdoses -
about twothirds were linked to illicit fentanyl.

"B.C. has had the most horrendous death toll so far," Mr. Robertson
said. "If that continues to move across the country, it will be a 

In Calgary, where firefighters have been trained to administer the
overdose antidote naloxone, they have dealt with overdose calls once a
day for the past month and many first responders are already burning
out as the crisis escalates.

Two or three people are dying every week in Calgary of opioid
overdoses, said Mayor Naheed Nenshi. "It is without question the most
dangerous thing happening in Calgary right now," he said in an interview.

Other cities across Canada are bracing for the eastward spread of
illicit fentanyl and the much more powerful carfentanil, a drug used
to tranquillize elephants and other large animals. Carfentanil turned
up for the first time in Winnipeg in September and in Ontario in December.

The Office of the Chief Coroner of Ontario has not yet published
overdose figures for 2016. In 2015, there were 253 overdose deaths in
Toronto, with 42 linked to fentanyl, a drug 50 to 100 times stronger
than morphine.

Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott and Public Safety Minister Ralph
Goodale have agreed to meet with the members of the task force - a
date has not yet been set.

The federal government has unveiled a series of measures aimed at
curtailing Canada's booming underground market in fentanyl. Under Bill
C-37, tabled in the House of Commons in December, pill-press machines
used in clandestine labs to manufacture bootleg fentanyl would no
longer be imported into Canada, and border guards who inspect goods
coming in would have broader powers to seize and open suspect packages.

The bill passed second reading in the House this week and is expected
to be fast-tracked through committee hearings.

Dr. Philpott, who has pledged to use every tool at her disposal to
combat the opioid epidemic, said on Friday that she welcomes the
involvement of the big city mayors.

"To really resolve this, we have to collaborate," she said in an
interview. "We have to all be working together, not pointing fingers
at one another."

Under Dr. Philpott's leadership, Health Canada made naloxone available
without a prescription last year, which helped make the drug more
widely available in many communities.

While harm-reduction measures such as naloxone are helping to save
lives, Mr. Robertson said, they are not enough. The death toll in
British Columbia has "skyrocketed," he said, because there are not
enough treatment programs.

- - With a report from Justin Giovannetti in Edmonton
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