Pubdate: Wed, 22 Feb 2017
Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Megan Harrison
Page: A3


Protesters call for action on opioids

Dozens gathered Tuesday on Parliament Hill to push the government to
deal with opioid overdoses.

It was one of eight protests organized across the country by the
Canadian Association of People Who Use Drugs, an organization of past
and present drug users, and its allies.

"Many people in this community know someone that has died," said Rick
Sproule, a member of the Ottawa-based Drug Users Advocacy League and
protest organizer.

He said that's why he and many other Canadians are pushing hard for an
end to the "war on drugs." He said he wants to see drug prohibition

"I know it's an extreme position, but it's the only permanent way out
of the overdose crisis," he said.

He said that would decrease illicit drug use and facilitate harm
reduction services, such as supervised injection sites and readily
available kits with naloxone - the opioid antidote.

His fear remains fixed on the fact counterfeit drugs often look like
prescription drugs, meaning many users aren't always aware of what
they're consuming - or how deadly it could be.

"If we can regulate the drugs, we know how much is in them," Sproule
said. "Right now, the way the drug supply is on the street … you can
never be sure how strong it is and what it is."

Marilou Gagnon, carried two arrows Tuesday, one pointed at Parliament
reading, "They talk," the other pointed back at the protesters and
reading, "We die."

Gagnon, a University of Ottawa nursing professor, hoped to send a
clear message: "We are expecting more at this stage.

"A lot of us - nurses, social workers, physicians - want to see
decriminalization, more access to naloxone, and supervised injection
sites integrated comprehensively across Canada," Gagnon said.

In the drug-user community, the issue is visceral. Jordon Maclean, a
former user and one of the protesters, said he overdosed eight years
ago, while waiting for rehab.

Eight years later, and he said he has yet to see real and effective
change, and that the problem is only getting worse.

"In the past two years, we've lost 300 or 400 people," he said. "We
just lost a 14-year-old the other day."

Ottawa teenager Chloe Kotval died on Valentine's Day of a suspected
drug overdose. It isn't known yet what drug may have been in her system.

Now a social worker, Maclean witnesses how this crisis is affecting
people in Ottawa every day. He spoke of a mother who asked him where
she could get a naloxone kit for her daughter, who was using heroin.
He told her that she couldn't get one.

"I wanted to give her mine, but I could get in trouble," he

That was a year ago, before Ontario pharmacies became eligible to
dispense free naloxone emergency kits in June 2016. Today it is more
readily available, he said.

"Things are changing, but people are still dying," he said. "It's
still an epidemic."
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