Pubdate: Sat, 05 Aug 2017
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 The Toronto Star
Author: Betsy Powell
Page: GT1


Health board chair says overdose crisis should provoke

Toronto's new medical officer of health is calling for a public
discussion on the merits of decriminalizing all drugs in the wake of
the ongoing overdose epidemic.

"It's clear that our current approach to drugs in this city and this
country doesn't seem to be having the desired impact," Dr. Eileen de
Villa told reporters Friday at a briefing on how the city is
responding to drug users overdosing and, in some cases, dying.

There have been six suspected fatal overdoses since the weekend,
including two teens found dead in an Etobicoke highrise.

In addition, Toronto emergency wards treated 79 people suspected of
overdosing during the last week of July. It's not yet clear how many
were deaths.

Last year, it's believed more than 2,400 Canadians died as a result of
opioid-related overdoses.

On Friday, following Thursday's emergency meeting of city partners, de
Villa reviewed with reporters the city's overdose prevention
strategies, which include asking police to carry the fentanyl antidote
and speeding up the opening of three safe injection sites.

De Villa said among the 10 key strategies in Toronto's Overdose Action
Plan is a call for a public health approach to drug policy that puts
the health of the community first, "rather than looking at this as an
issue of criminal behaviour and/or an area for law

The city is convening a committee of health and drug policy experts to
explore "a different approach that puts the health of the community
first," she said.

While acknowledging the city doesn't have the power to change the
Criminal Code, "Toronto has always been a leader . . . in policy and I
don't see why we wouldn't continue to be a leader on this front," said
de Villa, who stepped into her high-profile position four months ago.

Councillor Joe Mihevc, chair of the board of health, joined de Villa
at the briefing and said the generations of the war on drugs has been
an "abject failure."

He said Toronto should be "provoking" the conversation that is
happening internationally. About 25 countries, including Portugal,
have decriminalized drugs in some form, and next year recreational
marijuana will be legal in Canada, he noted.

"Is it appropriate, is it a wise use of public resources to be
throwing police, lawyers, courtsÂ… the criminal justice system at it,
or is it an issue where we throw in a lot more public health staff and
nurses? What yields the best result?" he said.

Mihevc predicted, if the fentanyl crisis deepens in Canada, mayors
across the country will begin pressuring the federal government to
look at legalizing and regulating illicit drugs.

He drew the connection to the wave of opioid overdoses, where former
patients prescribed painkillers, including "nice, white middle-class
people," get hooked, then turn to fentanyl-laced heroin bought on the
illegal market. Some traffickers cut their drug supply with fentanyl,
a highly potent painkiller.

"If there is a silver lining to the tragedy that we're living with
overdoses, it is provoking a larger conversation on how we have
understood drugs, the control of drugs, the illegality of drugs, the
ethics of drug use in Canada," Mihevc said.
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