Pubdate: Sat, 17 Feb 2018
Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Copyright: 2018 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Douglas Todd
Page: A3


Are public health officials facing up to the fact that the overdose
epidemic in Canada and the U.S. is mostly devastating boys and men?

There are small signs some health officials are slowly, awkwardly,
hesitatingly beginning to acknowledge the obvious: The overdose crisis
is predominantly an issue of men's health.

Public officials have much denial to make up for. It was just a year
ago that former B.C. Liberal health minister Terry Lake pulled out the
public relations stops to open a 38-bed Vancouver facility for women
to overcome substance abuse. Months before an election, Lake also
announced an overdose prevention site exclusively for females.

Lake's many media splashes never made a nod to the overdose plight of
boys and men - despite males accounting for four in five overdose
fatalities across the country; the portion recently hitting 85 per
cent of the almost 1,000 deaths in B.C. in just one year.

Despite his questionable efforts dealing with the scourge of fentanyl
deaths, Lake was given the annual "Hero" award by the Canadian Public
Health Association. Yet when Lake left office, he sent a decidedly
mixed message on drug use by becoming vice-president of a "luxury"
medical marijuana company.

The federal Liberal government has been equally tone-deaf to the
gender factor in the opioid crisis. Health Canada announced in October
it was granting $842,000 to B.C.'s Centre for Excellence in Women's
Health to explore "gender-informed" substance use and addiction.

The main web page of the Centre for Excellence in Women's Health
(CEWH) says it's devoted to "research and evaluation that produces
evidence to improve girls' and women's health." It has an exclusively
female board of directors.

This is not to mention the media, which, when it tallies up the
terrible statistics on overdose deaths, typically either ignores the
figures on males or alludes to it in a phrase. There have been only
rare exceptions to such gender blindness in media coverage of Canada's
crisis, including, of all things, by Britain's Guardian newspaper.

What are some tentative positive signs?

There are indications public health officials are starting to face the
self-evident, which was explained clearly by B.C.'s Leslie McBain,
whose 25-year-old son Jordan died of an opioid overdose, when she
said, "Mostly men … are dying, at home, alone."

The main sign of fresh gender awareness in B.C. came recently from
Fraser Health Authority's chief medical officer, Dr. Victoria Lee, who
appears to have the backing of the NDP's minister for mental health
and addictions minister, Judy Darcy. In a late January news
conference, Lee put males front and centre. She said men between the
ages of 19 and 59, especially those in the trades, are
disproportionately affected by an epidemic shrouded in secrecy and are
too ashamed to get help.

The second significant sign public officials are starting to, as they
say, "get it," is the anti-overdose, anti-stigma campaign organized by
the B.C. government in partnership with the Vancouver Canucks.

With former Canucks goalie Kirk McLean as campaign ambassador, a
website called offers information on how to access
treatment and recovery. The site doesn't specify males as primary
victims, but at least it boldly features photos of men (including
Indigenous men) and sends a male-accessible message, while confronting
what Darcy calls "the worst public health crisis in decades."

Meanwhile, I have been trying for a week to find out what the Centre
for Women's Health has been doing with its $842,000 in federal grants.
So far I've received a polite response that a report is not available
at this time. My perusal of the centre's website, however, suggests
the lion's share of its work on gender and substance use has streamed
into projects emphasizing girls, women and the LGBTQ population.

There are only a relative few references to males among the long list
of centre research projects and webcasts. In one example, a new
webcast on males and substance use, which features UBC nursing faculty
John Oliffe and Joan Bottorff and the centre's Nancy Poole and
Lorraine Greaves, a slide says, "Sex and gender are among the most
influential of the determinants of health."

The next slide then fleetingly acknowledges an imbalance: "When gender
has been addressed (as a determinant of health), it is common for
women and girls to be the focus … Men have often been ignored as
victims and survivors, less so as perpetrators."

That sentence amounts to a small admission of a gender double standard
in this health crisis. If 85 per cent of the victims of overdose
deaths had been female, it's clear there would be no reluctance to
zero in on that gender factor.

There might well be a stigma against those who use opioids, but there
may be a stronger stigma against recognizing this epidemic is
predominantly a male issue.
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MAP posted-by: Matt