Pubdate: Mon, 20 Nov 2017
Source: Truro Daily News (CN NS)
Copyright: 2017 The Daily News
Page: A4


To say that Canada is in the midst of opioid crisis is, tragically, a
gross understatement. This is an emergency. Some 3,000 people, or
about eight a day, are expected to die of opioid overdoses this year
in Canada. Another 16 others are hospitalized each day.

To put that in perspective, 44 people died in the SARS epidemic of

So Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor's announcement last week
listing new measures to fight the opioid crisis could not have come
soon enough. But, distressingly, as bold as the new measures are, they
don't go far enough to ward off the epidemic of deaths caused by these
highly addictive drugs.

Among the steps she announced: Ottawa will permit provinces to open
temporary overdose prevention sites while applications for permanent
sites go through the federal approval process. It will support the
testing of street drugs at supervised injection sites to ensure they
are not laced with the dangerous opioid fentanyl. It will also reduce
regulatory barriers that prevent addicts in treatment programs from
accessing prescription-grade heroin. It will even support pilot
projects at supervised consumption sites to provide opioid
alternatives, such as the pain medication dilaudid.

"The current epidemic of opioid overdoses is a public-health crisis
unlike any other we have dealt with in recent years," the health
minister rightly said.

Still, her government is unwilling to take other measures that health
care specialists and harm reduction workers agree would help to bring
the crisis under control.

Chief among them would be decriminalizing petty drug use and
possession, something urged on by the United Nations, the World Health
Organization, and the Global Commission on Drug Policy. Instead of
stigmatizing drug users, decriminalization would allow them to seek
the help they need. In the 16 years since Portugal, for example,
decriminalized possession of small amounts of drugs, overdose deaths
there have been reduced by around 80 per cent.

Ottawa and Ontario could also update their archaic emergencies acts so
that politicians could focus more public attention and resources on
the crisis. At present, neither act can be used to designate the
overdose crisis as an emergency.

The federal act, for example, defines a public welfare emergency only
as a threat caused by natural phenomenon (such as floods or fire),
diseases, accidents or pollution. And Ontario's act allows an
emergency to be declared for only 14 days, with a provision to renew
it twice more. As the provincial health ministry notes, sadly there is
nothing "short term" about the current opioid crisis. That need not
stop either level of government, though, from treating it as an emergency.

And while Ottawa could go further to fight this crisis, the federal
health minister is correct when she says "we are in the midst of a
national health crisis and no one group or government can address it

First and foremost, doctors have an important role to play. As an
interim report released last week from the Coalition for Safe and
Effective Pain Management notes, the best way to cut down on opioid
addiction is not to prescribe the drugs in the first place.
Appallingly, though, Canada has the second highest rate of opioid
prescribing in the world. More than 19 million opioid prescriptions
were filled in Canada in 2016.

That is highly dangerous since studies indicate as many as 26 per cent
of patients taking opioids will become addicted after their first

Police, too, can do more. Though other police forces in Canada carry
the overdose antidote naloxone, for example, Toronto police have so
far refused to do so. This is despite urgings not only from medical
experts but from the Toronto Police Association. It's especially
disappointing since the number of overdose calls to 911 is up 28 per
cent since last year in the city, and police are often first on the
scene of an emergency.

Ottawa must go further, faster to fight the opioid crisis. And
everyone else - from the provinces to municipalities to doctors to
police - must pull together to halt this national tragedy. It's
already an emergency, even if it can't be officially declared as one.
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MAP posted-by: Matt