Pubdate: Sat, 04 Mar 2017
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2017 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Andrea Woo
Page: S3


Attendees at the meeting urged Trudeau to consider extra funding and
expanded access to injectable opioid treatment

Canada's Prime Minister and Minister of Defence met with people on the
front lines of B.C.'s overdose crisis on Friday, listening as they
spoke candidly about the urgent need to scale up treatment options,
the province's record death toll and the emotional impact it's had on
first responders.

But while those who attended the meeting in the Downtown Eastside
clinic said the visit by Justin Trudeau and Harjit Sajjan was
appreciated and deeply meaningful, the Prime Minister offered no
promises on specific requests, such as dedicated funding for, and
reduced barriers to, heroin-assisted treatment.

Darwin Fisher, who represented the Insite supervised-injection site
and Portland Hotel Society (PHS) at the roundtable, said it was
incredibly heartening for such a meeting to take place, recalling that
the previous Conservative government fought Insite all the way to the
Supreme Court of Canada.

"To have the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister present at the
table is really important, that acknowledgment of people in the
Downtown Eastside and the work that gets done there," he said. There
was a lot said about the work that the people in the community do as
front-line responders - the people who live in the community and have
been providing front-line, life-saving response.

"To have the Prime Minister acknowledge the work PHS has done, as well
as the work of other service providers, felt so good after what's been
such a struggle."

It was the Prime Minister's second visit to the impoverished
neighbourhood since January.

Among the 15 people in attendance at Friday's meeting were physicians,
nurses, social workers, drug users and representatives from police,
fire and paramedics. They spoke of the devastating toll of the
overdose crisis in B.C.; Mr. Trudeau teared up when it was noted that
the majority of those who have died were younger than the 45-year-old
Prime Minister himself.

Numerous attendees spoke of the urgent need to expand access to
injectable opioid treatments such as prescription heroin. Fewer than
100 people are currently on heroin-assisted treatment - all out of one
clinic in the Downtown Eastside - with the major barrier to expansion
being a lack of funding.

"It was raised by almost everyone as something we needed because there
is poison circulating in the street," registered nurse Meaghan Thumath
said, "and until we have a chance to disrupt that supply and get a
clean, safe injectable option for folks, we'll keep throwing Band-Aids
like naloxone at it. The feeling was we really needed a significant
federal investment to support it."

When a Globe and Mail reporter later asked specifically about
dedicated, federal funding for heroin-assisted treatment, the Prime
Minister acknowledged generally the need for more front-line and
medical supports.

Attendees also asked for removal of the requirement that
pharmaceutical-grade heroin be accessed through Health Canada's
Special Access Programme. Currently, physicians must submit an
application for each prospective patient and, if approved, resubmit
every six months.

Addiction physician Keith Ahamad said expanded heroin-assisted
treatment is a more feasible way for drug users to avoid the toxic
drug supply than drug legalization - which many are calling for but
won't reasonably happen any time soon.

"He understands that the drug market is increasingly more toxic, and
we let him know that we need to find innovative ways to take organize
crime out of the equation," Dr. Ahamad said.

Attendees said the Prime Minister appeared caring and genuine and took
notes throughout the meeting.

Speaking with media following the meeting, Mr. Trudeau said the
overdose crisis "is nothing short of an absolute tragedy - especially
here in B.C."

"The impacts have been devastating: families ripped apart, communities
forever altered, loved ones lost too soon," he said.

A record 922 people died of illicit drug overdoses in B.C. last year,
with another 116 dying in January. The federal government last month
announced $65-million over five years to respond to Canada's opioid
crisis, with $10 million earmarked for B.C.
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