Pubdate: Tue, 29 Aug 2017
Source: London Free Press (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 The London Free Press
Author: Hank Daniszewski
Page: A1


Urged to declare an emergency, province promises "significant
resources and supports"

The opioid drug crisis flaring up in Southwestern Ontario is becoming
so bad across the province, hundreds of doctors, nurses and others are
pushing Queen's Park to declare an emergency.

In an open letter to Premier Kathleen Wynne Monday, the health workers
say limited resources and poor data are preventing them from
responding properly to a disturbing, sustained increase in overdoses.

"The consequences have been clear: lives lost, families destroyed and
harm reduction and health care worker burnout," they write.

Wynne, after meeting with group members, said in a statement the
government will announce "significant additional resources and
supports" in coming days.

"We agreed that what's happening in Ontario is a public health
crisis," she said.

Declaring a public health emergency, as British Columbia did last
year, is a move that would typically free up more money to tackle the

In Southwestern Ontario, opioids used on the street have triggered
rare public health and police warnings, including in London and in
Sarnia, a city where a rash of three drug overdoses in mere hours
recently left one person dead. Cocaine contaminated by fentanyl, a
potent opioid painkiller, was the suspected culprit.

Even the volume of legally prescribed opioids is raising eyebrows,
with a recent report suggesting some areas of Southwestern Ontario -
Sarnia-Lambton, Chatham-Kent, Elgin County and Windsor-Essex - are
running some of Ontario's highest rates for opioid drug

The drive to declare opioid abuse an emergency in Ontario is getting
support from London Mayor Matt Brown and health agencies dealing with
the problem.

"Here in London we are dealing with a crisis that continues to grow,"
said Brown.

"We have to something. Fenantyl is arriving here and across Ontario
and we have to be prepared," he said.

Brown has called for the creation of a local opioid crisis working
group to combat abuse of the family of drugs, at the urging of local
health agencies including the London Intercommunity Health Centre.

Its executive director, Scott Courtice, is among the 700 health care
professionals who signed the open letter to Wynne after it made the
rounds online. "We have to get ahead of it. We don't want to be in the
same place as B.C where there are so many overdose deaths," he said.

Courtice said declaring an emergency could spur more funding for
naloxone kits, which can reverse the effects of an overdose, response
workers and addiction treatment centres.

London has seen wave after wave of drugs, ranging from crystal meth to
heroin, but Courtice said fentanyl is different because it's so
deadly, even in trace amounts, and is often mixed in with other street

"At the root of this is people with mental health issues and
unresolved trauma," he said. "I have yet to meet somebody that had
deliberately taken fentanyl."

The Middlesex-London Health Unit says opioid overdoses claim about 30
lives a year and shows signs of worsening.

Christopher Mackie. the London region's medical officer of health, is
to address a city council committee Sept. 18 on a strategy that could
include a medically supervised druginjection site.

Mackie was unavailable for comment Monday.

The problem's growth is inevitable and the province must play a key
role in working with municipalities to establish supervised injection
and detox sites, said Sharon Koivu, an addiction medicine specialist
at the London Health Sciences Centre .

Supervised sites may face public opposition, but Koivu said they help
addicts deal with a medical problem.

"They increase community safety, not decrease it," she

Health Minister Eric Hoskins has noted Ontario launched a strategy on
opioid addiction and overdose last year, has provided funding for new
front-line addiction and mental health workers and is distributing
more than 6,500 naloxone kits each month.

Hoskins' office said significant further supports will be announced
soon. The group behind the open letter was unable to quantify how much
more funding is needed to address the crisis, but said it's certainly
in the millions and needs to come urgently.

"We're leaving the responsibility of this crisis to people's families
and their friends and people who use drugs to save each other's lives
and it is not OK," said harm reduction worker Zoe Dodd.

At Queen's Park, the Progressive Conservatives under Patrick Brown say
the Liberal government must crack down on machines used to make
counterfeit pills and should divert 10 per cent of the government's
$57-million advertising budget to opioid awareness.

But the government doesn't need to declare an emergency to take steps
now to deal with the problem, said PC health critic Jeff Yurek.

"It is everywhere and smaller rural areas have fewer supports in place
to deal with the crisis," said Yurek, the Elgin-MiddlesexLondon MPP
and a pharmacist by profession.

The Ontario NDP says it supports the declaration of a health

"The need for action is urgent and any further delays by the Wynne
government are simply unacceptable," NDP health critic France Gelinas
said in a statement.

B.C. declared a public health emergency in April 2016 after 201
overdose deaths in the first three months of that year, 64 of them
involving fentanyl.
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