Pubdate: Sat, 27 May 2017
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2017 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Andrea Woo
Page: 4


One measure being sought by big-city leaders - expanded
heroin-assisted treatment programs - finds support from Vancouver police

Canada's big-city mayors are calling for the expedited approval of new
supervised drug-consumption sites, improved data collection and the
expansion of unconventional therapies, such as heroin-assisted
treatment, to address a national overdose crisis that shows no signs
of abating.

The formal recommendations from the Federation of Canadian
Municipalities' task force on the opioid crisis come as the Vancouver
Police Department issues its own call for expanded addictions
programs, including heroin-assisted treatment.

It's believed to be the first time a Canadian police force has
formally called for the expansion of the therapy, which involves
providing pharmaceutical-grade heroin to users to sidestep toxic
street drugs cut with deadly illicit fentanyl.

"It shows how dramatic and deplorable the crisis is when there's
consensus across the board for drug-policy change and massive health
interventions to stop the death toll," said Vancouver Mayor Gregor
Robertson, who chairs the task force for the Big City Mayors' Caucus.

The task force also wants the federal government to set national
targets for reducing overdoses, with a progress report to be issued by

Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott was unavailable for an interview
on Thursday but a statement from her office said she is "committed to
using every lever at her disposal to combat the crisis, and to work
with all levels of government and partners across the country to do

Mr. Robertson said the objective is to mobilize all governments to
take urgent action.

"Big-city mayors are seeing a huge spike in death and carnage in our
cities and are calling for the federal and provincial governments to
step up and take leadership and help solve this with us, because we
don't have the tools to deal with it on our own," he said.

"We need the federal government's overall co-ordinating role and
funding support but, ultimately, the provinces are responsible for
health care and have to deliver the treatment and care that's required."

One hope is that Ottawa will be able to compel provinces to improve
surveillance and data collection, and issue minimum quarterly reports,
Mr. Robertson said.

For example: Ontario's most recent data on opioid-related deaths,
released Wednesday, only cover the first half of 2016. (It found that
such deaths jumped 11 per cent compared with the same period in 2015.)
Such dated information hinders the emergency response to a rapidly
evolving situation that has seen new records being set every few months.

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), through a special advisory
committee on the overdose epidemic, said in an e-mail sent Thursday
that it has developed a common reporting template for opioid-related
deaths for provinces and territories to submit on a quarterly basis.
However, the e-mail says jurisdictions "with available opioid-related
death data" are sharing it, suggesting there is not yet a requirement
for provinces and territories to provide timely or consistent data.

The PHAC did not provide further details by deadline on

Other recommendations for the federal government include establishing
comprehensive timelines, measures and evidence-based targets related
to a harm-reduction strategy; the adoption of a pan-Canadian action
plan that "addresses the root causes of the opioid crisis;" and
working with cities to develop more social and affordable housing.

The task force, struck in February, convenes mayors of 13 cities:
Vancouver, Surrey, Edmonton, Calgary, Regina, Saskatoon, Winnipeg,
Hamilton, London, Kitchener, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal.

Meanwhile, Vancouver police on Wednesday issued its own report and
recommendations relating to the overdose crisis, noting "we cannot
arrest our way out of the opioid crisis."

"First responders are uniquely positioned to help refer individuals to
treatment services," the report states. "Unfortunately, there is a
lack of services that are immediately accessible. This usually means
that the cycle of addiction and crime continues."

In addition to the expansion of heroin-assisted treatment, the
department's recommendations include creating a system in which drug
users seeking treatment can access it immediately and 24/7; creating a
provincewide information system for tracking waiting lists and other
addiction treatment data; and developing a drug-testing system that
can inform the creating of an early warning system when new drugs
enter the market.

Both the mayors' task force and the VPD also continue to call for more
public education campaigns on the risks of opioid use, how to respond
to and treat overdoses and where to seek treatment and support.
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MAP posted-by: Matt