Pubdate: Sat, 20 Jan 2018
Source: Winnipeg Free Press (CN MB)
Copyright: 2018 Winnipeg Free Press
Author: Katie May
Page: B2


GOOD Samaritan law aimed at saving lives during Canada's opioid crisis
isn't getting enough public attention, proponents say.

Members of all major political parties supported legislation that
gives immunity from criminal charges to people who call for help
during a drug overdose, but whether the law has encouraged people to
call 911 remains unclear. Conservative and NDP health critics say the
federal government hasn't done enough to advertise the Good Samaritans
Drug Overdose Act since it came into effect in May 2017.

British Columbia MP Don Davies, who is the NDP health critic, said
he's concerned drug users and people who are meant to benefit from the
law don't know about it.

He said he's been told the Liberal government spent $2.1 million on
advertising the law - too little, he said, given the spike in overdose
deaths in several provinces.

"Because we're in a crisis right now, I think that we should be
front-loading the advertising so that we're doing everything we can to
get this information out to people now," he said, adding he supports
the law.

"Anecdotally, we're hearing that it is having some effect. There's no
hard data yet that I've seen to quantify that. I would suspect,
though, that it's having much less impact than it should and that's
because the federal government has only put $2 million into
advertising it and, obviously, its effect is only as good as people
knowing about it."

The legislation, which was put forward as a private member's bill by
B.C. Liberal MP Ron McKinnon, means anyone who calls for medical
attention or help from law enforcement during an overdose can't be
charged or convicted with simple drug possession or breach charges for
breaking court orders. The law applies to anyone experiencing an
overdose themselves or anyone calling to help someone else, but it
doesn't extend to more serious charges such as drug

Marilyn Gladu, the Conservative health critic, said there hasn't been
enough public education about the law.

"I don't think there's a general awareness in the drug-user population
that this bill exists," she said. "I think it's a great step to make
it a law, but I would say to get the awareness of the law is important.

"The government is spending half-a-billion dollars to legalize
marijuana. They've only spent $30 million on the opioid crisis and
clearly there needs to be public education and awareness about this
bill in order to save more lives."

In Manitoba, drug users are being informed about the law and how to
prevent overdoses, said Dr. Ginette Poulin, medical director for the
Addictions Foundation of Manitoba. She said she talks to her clients
about the legal immunity when they seek treatment for opioid addiction.

"The reaction that I see from clients is that they have a little bit
of relief when they hear this, but they still have some of that fear.
Even though they know, they still worry that they might (be
charged),"Poulin said. "Once they start seeing that it's happening and
it's safe, and people are not (being charged), that will speak volumes."

The Good Samaritan Act has been invoked in at least four cases in
which drug charges were dropped by federal prosecutors in Manitoba -
some as recently as September 2017, the province's chief federal
prosecutor told the Free Press.

In Winnipeg, the number of opioid-related deaths has increased
five-fold since 2016, according to the most recent statistics from the
province. The number of deaths dipped to five in the second quarter of
2016, but increased to 26 by the first quarter of 2017.

The use of naloxone kits - which have been distributed free across
Manitoba - increased by 40 per cent in suspected overdose situations.
Most of those suspected overdoses were likely caused by the potent
painkiller fentanyl or the even more powerful derivative drug
carfentanil, according to the report on opioid misuse in Manitoba from
April to June 2017.
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