Pubdate: Sun, 10 Dec 2017
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 The Toronto Star
Page: A16


Just how horrific Ontario's opioid crisis has become came into sharp
focus this past week with the release of timely new data from
Ontario's chief coroner, Dirk Huyer.

Sadly, from May to July of this year, there were 336 opioid-related
deaths in the province, up from 201 in that same period last year.
That represents a staggering 68-per-cent increase.

Health Minister Eric Hoskins put a human face on the startling
statistics when he reminded Ontarians that "each and every one of
these numbers is a person: someone who was loved by their family,
someone who won't be coming home this holiday season."

Just as shocking was the number of emergency-department visits related
to opioid overdoses in the province. Between July and September there
were 2,449. That's a hike of 115 per cent from the same period a year

No wonder Hoskins termed it a "public-health crisis" and announced
sensible actions his ministry is taking to prevent the rapid increase
in opioid-related deaths and hospitalizations.

For one, the Ontario government will offer 61 police services and 447
fire departments free naloxone kits. The drug can reverse an overdose.

Ontario has also received an exemption for temporary overdose
prevention centres from federal Health Minister Ginette Petitpas
Taylor to ensure that nurses and other harm-reduction staff working at
any pop-up sites that are not approved by Ottawa are not prosecuted.

"This new ability would strengthen Ontario's harm reduction efforts in
communities and protect the courageous front-line workers at these
sites from federal prosecution," Hoskins said.

That's good news for volunteer nurses and staff at the pop-up safe
injection trailer at Toronto's Moss Park. They set their site up in
August, initially in a tent, to prevent drug users from overdosing. At
the time, none of the three federally approved sites in Toronto had
opened its doors.

Since then the city has opened two of the sites. One, on Victoria
Street in the Yonge-Dundas area, opened shortly after the Moss Park
pop-up tent was set up. Another, at South Riverdale Community Health
Centre, opened on Nov. 27. A third, at Queen WestCentral Community
Health Clinic, is hoping to open its doors by mid-January. Much more
can be done. First, Ontario municipalities should apply to open up
more permanent injection centres and encourage more pop-up sites.
British Columbia, for example, has more than 20 temporary supervised
injection sites, in addition to its permanent sites.

Second, questions about legal liability for police officers who use
naloxone on people they suspect are overdosing must be cleared up.

Ontario's Special Investigations Unit, the province's police watchdog,
must make clear - as B.C.'s comparable unit has - that police will not
come under scrutiny if someone dies during life-saving treatment.
Otherwise, the province's police departments can't be expected to ask
their officers to carry naloxone.

Last week the SIU simply reiterated that it is "mandated to
investigate any incident involving police where there has been serious
injury, death or an allegation of sexual assault." That's not good

Third, the province must make clear how long it is going to pay for
the $120 kits. Police departments may be wary of starting to carry the
kits if the costs won't be covered down the road.

While the kits are not a magic pill for saving lives they do offer
hope until trained emergency responders arrive on the scene.

Indeed, the Canadian Mental Health Association even urged bars,
restaurants and other public venues to start stocking the life-saving
kits. And the Ontario government has made them free at some pharmacies
to anyone carrying an OHIP card.

In the end, as Hoskins pointed out, numbers can never tell the story
of a life lost to an overdose. But here's one last sobering statistic:
Some 3,000 people, or about eight a day, are expected to die of opioid
overdoses across the country this year. Hopefully, the new measures
adopted last week and those still to come will help stem that sad tide.
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