Pubdate: Fri, 26 May 2017
Source: Province, The (CN BC)
Copyright: 2017 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Camille Bains
Page: 18


Mayors across Canada are calling for federal leadership on the
"national emergency" of overdoses by ensuring provinces provide timely
access to addiction treatment and by launching public education campaigns.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, who heads a task force of the big
city mayors caucus on the opioid crisis, said he and his counterparts
in 12 other cities agree the situation is so dire that Ottawa must
take a leadership role if jurisdictions are not moving fast enough to
save lives.

Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott said last month she's frustrated
with provinces and territories that have not provided her with
information on overdose deaths despite repeated requests.

Robertson said some provinces are "dragging their feet" on data
collection but the federal government must step in with a standardized
format to gather the information, which should be reported publicly at
least every quarter.

"It's shocking when this epidemic is sweeping across Canada, when
facts are being withheld," he said in an interview, noting Vancouver
collects weekly information on the number of fatal and non-fatal
overdoses while the provincial coroner's service publishes monthly
updates on its website.

The service said there were 347 drug overdose fatalities in B.C.
between January and March, putting the total on track to surpass the
record 931 illicit drug deaths last year, many involving the
painkiller fentanyl.

"It's a human catastrophe and it's taking an enormous toll on first
responders and we can't withstand this pace for much longer,"
Robertson said, adding a co-ordinated response involving all levels of
government is also essential to ensure federal funds are directed
toward removing barriers to treatment.

Across Canada, about 2,000 people died from opioid overdoses in 2015,
the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health has said, adding the number
is headed even higher this year.

Robertson and his counterparts on the task force, which is part of the
Federation of Canadian Municipalities, say addiction treatment is
essential, including medically supervised opioid substitution therapy
and prescription heroin for people who haven't responded to other
forms of intervention.

The Vancouver Police Department issued its own report Wednesday
calling for treatment on demand, saying the opioid crisis is taxing
officers who can't immediately refer people who need help and that
reviving them with the overdose-reversing drug naloxone isn't good

"There's no question this is a national emergency," Robertson said,
adding the mayors debated whether the federal government should invoke
the National Emergency Act.

The high number of overdose deaths in B.C. prompted the provincial
government to open 23 overdose prevention sites around the province so
people could inject illicit drugs while monitored by trained staff.
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