Pubdate: Fri, 29 Sep 2017
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2017 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Jamil Jivani (Visiting professor at Osgoode Hall Law School)
Page: A13


The Toronto Board of Health has joined the chorus of voices asking the
Ontario government to better fight the opioid crisis. This week, the
board voted unanimously to recommend the province declare the opioid
crisis a provincial emergency. Last month, more than 700 health-care
workers across Ontario signed an open letter also requesting Premier
Kathleen Wynne declare the opioid crisis a provincial emergency.

In response to last month's open letter, Ontario's Health Minister
Eric Hoskins resisted declaring an emergency and instead offered a
familiar solution: spending more money. The provincial government
plans to spend $222-million over three years to hire more
harm-reduction workers, expand the supply of naloxone and create more
clinics. Following the board of health's vote, Dr. Hoskins doubled
down on his refusal to label the opioid crisis an emergency.

Missing in this response is recognition that the opioid crisis
requires more than just money to solve. It also requires dynamic
leadership. Declaring a provincial emergency or a comparable gesture
would signal that the Ontario government is taking meaningful
responsibility to solve the problem of opioid abuse.

For the past few months, I've been working to fight the opioid crisis
with Our Ohio Renewal, an advocacy and policy research organization
based in Columbus. Ohio is one of the states hit hardest by opioid
abuse in the United States. From 2000 to 2015, unintentional drug
overdoses in Ohio rose from 411 a year to 3,050. This change in
overdose deaths tells the story of a growing crisis.

Ontario hasn't seen nearly as many opioid overdoses. From 2003 to
2016, overall opioid-related deaths grew from 366 to 865 a year,
including a 19-percent increase from 2015 to 2016. Emergency
department visits related to opioid abuse have more than doubled in
Ontario since 2003. Toronto Public Health reports that of the 204
accidental drug-related deaths in Toronto in 2015, opioids were
involved in 135 of them.

However, news headlines in Ontario have started to alarmingly mirror
what I've seen in Ohio. For example, earlier this month, the Toronto
Public Library announced that it will begin to train staff to
administer naloxone to help reverse opioid-overdose symptoms. This is
a sign of how transformative the opioid crisis can be in its impact on
public services, a transformation that has already taken root in other
parts of North America.

I was recently in Ross County, Ohio, to learn from Community Action
Agencies fighting the opioid crisis in the state. Ross County, which
is home to 77,000 people, lost 44 people to drug overdoses in 2016.
Very quickly I learned that it's hard for people in a small community
not to feel each one of those deaths personally. Dozens of family and
friends are attached to each person struggling with addiction.

The transformative impact of the opioid crisis was a common theme in
Ross County. A municipal court judge powerfully explained, "None of us
are doing the job we trained for." He said judges, police and
probation officers, teachers, coroners, social workers and others
working on the ground have had their jobs change significantly over
the past decade. A police officer echoed this sentiment. "Groups that
used to not work together are now forced to be partners. We need all
the help we can get."

Ohio also provides an example of what dynamic leadership to fight the
opioid crisis can look like. Ohio Governor John Kasich has organized
an Opiate Action Team, which is a collection of different government
agencies leading a collective response to opioid abuse. This team has
taken a look at the opioid crisis from multiple angles: law
enforcement; drug education for youth; development and enforcement of
medical prescription guidelines; overdose-antidote access; and
treatment and recovery services. This Opiate Action Team doesn't have
all of the answers, but it has been able to provide leadership to the
many moving parts of a government, which is necessary for a problem as
complex as the opioid abuse.

If government leaders in Ontario can develop a comprehensive strategy
to fight the opioid crisis now, Ontarians might be able to avoid the
heartache and loss faced in other parts of North America. There are
many lives at stake when government leaders decide what to do about
opioid abuse; let's hope they recognize this crisis demands more than
just money.
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MAP posted-by: Matt