Pubdate: Tue, 29 Aug 2017
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 The Toronto Star
Authors: Dr. Nanky Rai, Zoe Dodd, Dr. Michaela Beder and Dr. Mary Yang 
Page: A11


It is not enough to move slowly while people are losing their loved
ones, family members, friends, colleagues and patients from
preventable deaths

More than 700 harm-reduction workers, nurses, physicians, nurse
practitioners, public health officials and others working within our
health-care system, from 59 different cities and towns in Ontario,
have signed a letter calling on the provincial government to declare
an immediate emergency in response to opioid overdoses and related
deaths in Ontario.

The Ontario provincial government has been slow and ineffectual in its
response to the deaths of Ontarians from the opioid crisis. Drug users
and their allies have been left to respond to the recent opioid crisis
alone, without sufficient funding or support. Appallingly, the most
recent data available for Ontario is from 2016. It showed that opioid
deaths jumped 11 per cent in the first half of 2016. For those on the
front lines, it is evident that the current rate of opioid-related
deaths is exceeding the mid-2016 estimate of two deaths per day and
the rate of emergency department opioid-related visits has risen
dramatically. This crisis has impacted people all across the province,
including in northern Ontario.

In response, the provincial government has asked for more data, while
people are dying. This is not enough. It is not enough to move slowly
while people are losing their loved ones, family members, friends,
colleagues and patients from preventable deaths. Peer workers, with
severely limited funding and support, have been handed the heavy
burden of witnessing overdoses and being first responders, watching
over their friends in alleyways, on stairs and in public bathrooms.

Brave front-line harm-reduction workers in Toronto recently opened an
overdose prevention site in Moss Park, which is providing a safe space
for people to use. Since its opening, city officials have expedited
the opening of an interim city-sanctioned supervised injection site at
Toronto Public Health's The Works.

The provincial government has finally released funding requested by
South Riverdale Community Health Centre and Queen West Community
Health Centre to start their own supervised injection sites in fall

The opening of the site in Moss Park has also inspired those in health
care and public health into action.

We are calling for a declaration of an emergency, to hold the province
accountable to implement a plan to respond to this crisis.

We need increased funding for frontline workers, additional supervised
injection sites and overdose prevention sites across the province and
support and treatment for people who use drugs. Naloxone, the
life-saving medication that can reverse opioid overdoses, needs to be
made available broadly and in innovative ways, such as through home
programs and emergency departments.

We need wider access to drug testing; with the current tainted supply,
life-saving information can be gained by testing drugs before they are
consumed. This is a public health crisis, and it needs a coordinated
public health response, not a criminal justice response. An emergency
declaration would also send a message to survivors, families and
communities that their lives are respected.

Let us take leadership from those most affected by this crisis and 
listen carefully to them when they say, as displayed on banners during a 
protest organized by front-line harm-reduction workers at the 2017 
International Harm Reduction Conference in Montreal: "They talk, we 
die." We hope Premier Kathleen Wynne and her cabinet will hear these 
words and move into action, starting with this necessary political 
declaration for an emergency in Ontario.

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Dr. Nanky Rai is a family physician in Toronto. Zoe Dodd is a hepatitis 
C program co-ordinator in Toronto. Dr. Michaela Beder is a psychiatrist 
in Toronto. Dr. Mary Yang is a psychiatry resident in Toronto.
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