Pubdate: Thu, 07 Sep 2017
Source: Metro (Vancouver, CN BC)
Copyright: 2017 Metro Canada
Author: Jen St. Denis


Canada should declare opioid crisis: Doctor

The head of Portugal's addictions directorate is urging Canada to
declare the opioid overdose crisis a national health emergency.

On a tour of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, the innercity
neighbourhood home to many people who struggle with addictions and
mental health, Dr. Joao Goulao said the sheer number of deaths caused
by the tainted supply of illicit drugs warrants the

Portugal is often held up as a model of progressive drug reform.
Policy changes started in the late 1990s in that country included
decriminalizing drugs, something many public health advocates are now
advocating for Canada as the only truly effective way to remove the
risk of ingesting illicit drugs tainted with fentanyl, a powerful
synthetic opioid.

Goulao recently met with Canada's federal health and justice
ministers, Jane Philpott and Judy Wilson-Raybould, who travelled to
Portugal in July to see how the country's addictions health system
works. While the federal government has embarked on the process to
legalize marijuana, there are no plans yet to decriminalize other drugs.

So far Canada's federal government has refused to declare the opioid
crisis a national health emergency.

Goulao said Portugal's policies are about much more than
decriminalization. "Decriminalization is important," he told reporters
outside Vancouver's Crosstown Clinic, the only clinic in Canada to
offer prescription heroin to patients.

"But otherwise what is really important is the co-ordinated

Goulao said he was impressed by the number of harm reduction
facilities in the Downtown Eastside - from Insite, Canada's first
supervised injection site, to new overdose prevention sites opened
since the overdose crisis hit, to Crosstown Clinic - but said he would
suggest better communication and co-ordination between the services.

Goulao, who served on the initial policy panel that recommended
decriminalization in 1999, reflected on how international attitudes
towards his countries' drug policies have changed over the years.

"We had a lot of problems with the United Nations when we decided to
decriminalize," he said. "Nowadays, 15 years later, Portugal is an
example of best practices."

Goulao will speak at the Recovery Capital Conference of Canada, which
takes place this week in New Westminster.
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