Pubdate: Tue, 05 Sep 2017
Source: Hamilton Spectator (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 The Hamilton Spectator
Author: John Roe
Page: A12


The sheer magnitude of Ontario's opioid crisis became tragically clear
with last week's revelation that 865 people in this province had died
after overdosing on one of these powerful drugs in 2016.

To put this heartbreaking figure in perspective, consider that in the
same year Ontario recorded 206 homicides while motor vehicle
collisions claimed 482 lives, which included 96 alcohol-related deaths.

People and politicians are rightly committed to protecting human lives
by preventing homicides, making roads safer and cracking down on drunk

But as of last year, the number of opioid deaths had exceeded the
number of homicide victims and road fatalities combined. Yet only now
is the provincial government giving the opioid scourge the attention
it needs.

The good news is that Kathleen Wynne's Liberals last week committed
$222 million in new funding over the next three years to save the
lives of those using these drugs and, just as importantly, to help
them stop using them. This is a huge though entirely appropriate
investment in the safety and well-being of Ontarians.

Much of the new funding will be used to open more "rapid access"
clinics for opioid users and provide them with more safe injection
sites. There will be cash for more front-line harm-reduction workers
as well as for naloxone kits, which are used to reverse overdoses.
Just as important is the new funding to treat addicts and help them
kick their habit, as well as to provide people with safer alternatives
to opioids for managing pain. That's crucial because opioids include
legal drugs such as morphine and oxycodone which are often prescribed
to mitigate pain but provide a "high" that can prove addictive to some

Intelligent, comprehensive and compassionate are all words that
describe the government's new plan of attack. It is treating opioid
abuse as a matter of public health first and foremost - and not a
criminal issue. That's the best approach.

Where the government deserves criticism, however, is in its slow
reaction to a serious social problem that has been highly publicized
for more than a year.

While far more people using opioids died in 2016 than in the previous
year, there were hundreds of opioid deaths in Ontario in 2015. The
Liberals knew this. In June, they earmarked $15 million for naloxone
kits. But only last week did they show that the opioid crisis had
become one of their highest priorities.

Interestingly, the new money was announced just one day after 700
front-line addiction workers signed a letter publicly slamming the
Liberals for a "slow and ineffectual" response to this health crisis.
The government was surely right to point out its plan was the result
of months of work. Yet the scale of its response was a tacit admission
it had not done nearly enough.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt