Pubdate: Tue, 29 Aug 2017
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 The Toronto Star
Page: A10


Hundreds of health-care workers are urging the province to call the
recent spate of opioid overdoses and deaths across Ontario by a
different name.

More than 700 front-line workers want the province to declare a state
of emergency over the opioid crisis, in hopes that the urgent
classification will boost funding for front-line workers, open up more
overdose prevention and safe-injection sites and increase support and
treatment programs for drug users.

Whether or not the province chooses to declare the epidemic an
emergency, it must start treating it as one immediately.

The group, some of whose members met with Kathleen Wynne on Monday,
rightly argues in an open letter and in an opinion piece on the
opposite page that Ontario has been "slow and ineffectual" in its
response to Ontario's growing opioid crisis.

In the first six months of 2016, 412 Ontarians died of opioid
overdoses - an 11-per-cent increase from the previous year.

In Toronto, when used alone or in combination with other drugs, a 2015
public health study found opioids were responsible for about one-third
of accidental deaths that year. And just last month, a batch of the
drug killed four people and caused 20 overdoses during a three-day

Officials seem to be getting the point, belatedly, that urgent and
early intervention is needed - and could be helping.

In June, the province gave local health agencies $15 million to hire
staff and hand out naloxone kits, which are used to revive drug users
from overdoses until they can get more thorough treatment in hospital.

And recent statistics from two safe-injection sites in Toronto show
that intervention is making a difference. Toronto Public Health opened
up a temporary site this month and said they had 36 visits in five
days. At another safe injection site in Moss Park, set up by "local
harm-reduction advocates," medically trained volunteers have stopped
or reversed 12 overdoses.

After Wynne met with the health-care group, the premier promised
"significant additional resources and supports" would be announced in
the coming days - but stopped short of classifying it as an emergency.

Wynne's comments show promise, but the question is how far is the
province willing to go to prevent the crisis from spiralling out of

As health-care workers across the Ontario know too well, the answer
could be a matter of life and death.

More important than what we call this crisis is how we respond to it.
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