In 2018 we find ourselves battling an opioid crisis that has been
years in the making. Opioids are drugs that act on the nervous system
to relieve pain and were originally derived from opium but now also
include synthetic preparations.
In the mid-1990s, their use by physicians was heavily promoted by the
pharmaceutical industry, leading to greater prescribing for both acute
and chronic pain. Patients using opioids can develop a dependency or
There are two sources of opioids: those that are produced by the
pharmaceutical industry and those that are illicitly produced.
Recently, the illicit supply has become so contaminated with fentanyl
(a very powerful opioid) or fentanyl-like substances that many people
are at risk of an unintended acute and potentially fatal poisoning.
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Last week there were two rallies organized to address the opioid
crisis - one in the city and the other on the Blood Reserve. On Monday
night, I attended the Community in Crisis March that started at City
Hall and ended with a candlelight vigil at Galt Gardens. Several very
touching speeches were given by citizens who have been impacted by the
opioid crisis and are determined to fight back.
Our Mayor and local MLA Maria Fitzpatrick also provided remarks
echoing the sentiment that this crisis sees no boundaries - it does
not discriminate. They also reaffirmed we must continue with harm
reduction efforts and band together as communities.
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The life-saving drug may actually increase opioid abuse. Here's
My friendly local pharmacy has started selling naloxone kits to the
general public. They think everyone should have one. The idea is that
you never know when you're going to have someone overdose in your home.
As the opioid crisis spreads like a curse across North America,
naloxone - a lifesaving drug that neutralizes the effects of an opioid
overdose - is not confined to first responders anymore. Schools in
Toronto are stocking up in it. Librarians across the United States
have been trained to administer it to overdosing visitors. Everywhere,
the message is: make sure you have some on hand, just in case.
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More supervised injection sites planned as opioid-overdose numbers
The construction trailer that houses the illegal, volunteer-run
overdose prevention site in Toronto's Moss Park is about to open for
another evening, as a dozen drug users, some clearly anxious for their
fix, cluster around its muddy entrance in the cold.
Activist and harm-reduction worker Zoe Dodd, named one of Toronto Life
magazine's most influential people last year, alongside Foreign
Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and R&B star the Weeknd, unloads an
extra box of anti-overdose naloxone kits from her beat-up sedan.
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City's fatality rate is now nearly double Ontario average, fuelling
Opioid-related deaths in Hamilton have soared more than 80 per cent in
From January to October, 75 Hamilton residents died from an opioid
overdose in 2017 compared to 41 during the same period the year before.
"Opioids are continuing to have a devastating impact on individuals,
families, and the community," Hamilton's medical officer of health Dr.
Elizabeth Richardson said in a statement Friday. "The sustained trend
of rising opioid related deaths, which are preventable, in Hamilton is
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WATERLOO REGION - Waterloo Region plans to look further into pursuing
three supervised injection sites, following a study that found a need
and support in the community for the service to combat fatal opioid
Sites are proposed for the central cores of Kitchener and Galt, and a
third spot to be determined that could be a mobile unit.
"In Waterloo Region, we know that overdose is on the rise," said Grace
Bermingham, regional manager of information, planning and harm reduction.
Bermingham presented findings from the first phase of a feasibility
study on supervised injection sites to a regional committee on
Tuesday. The second phase involves identifying potential locations and
further consultations with people who live, work or go to school near
a proposed site.
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The significant spike in illicit drug overdoses in Lethbridge has not
reached Medicine Hat - yet.
There is no way to predict that it will or when, said Insp. Tim
McGough, Medicine Hat Police Service.
Lethbridge recently experienced its largest spike in overdoses - 16
cases - ever recorded in a 24-hour period. There were 42 overdose
calls to first responders in the week after Feb. 19.
"We've had no specific overdose spike (in Medicine Hat) but we are
always concerned with illicit usage." said McGough.
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Nearly three weeks in, London's temporary overdose-prevention site -
the first of its kind in the province - has gone from four drug users
a day to 44, and front-line workers are beaming.
The stripped-down supervised consumption facility opened Feb. 12, a
quick, co-ordinated response to the growing number of opioid overdoses
among London drug users. As of Tuesday, staff were seeing as many as
44 clients a day.
"Clients are having trouble believing it. It's too good to be true,"
said Sonja Burke, needle exchange director at the Regional HIV/AIDS
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This week marks a historic first for the City of Lethbridge. The
Supervised Consumption Site (SCS) will open its doors and will be the
first of its kind in North America to offer all four modes of
consumption - ingestion/oral, injection, intra-nasal/snorting and
inhalation. Despite this milestone, it's fair to say the facility has
been met with mixed reviews, including people who have come to me to
"blame" the police service for letting it happen. This not only
demonstrates a narrow view of Canada and our Charter of Rights and
Freedoms, but a failure to understand the role of the police in
social-political decisions that are driven by municipal , provincial
and federal officials and the mandate they support.
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St. Catharines council is unanimously supporting the creation of a
temporary supervised injection site in the city to help deal with the
"It is pure harm reduction. It is stopping people from dying," said
Sandi Tantardini of Niagara Area Moms Ending Stigma, speaking in
support of the site at Monday night's council meeting.
Tantardini and Jennifer Johnston founded the group of moms, families
and friends of people who have been lost to or are struggling with
"When we're talking about the effects of the opioid crisis, our group
and its representatives and our families, we're the faces of it," said
Johnston, whose son Jonathan, a chef who trained at Niagara College,
died of a fentanyl overdose in Toronto.
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Re: Opioid vending machines won't help B.C.'s addicts. Jeremy Devine,
Feb. 14 This piece, written by my classmate, Jeremy Devine, contains
misinformation and stigma. I felt compelled to write a response because
his views do not reflect mine or those of many of our fellow medical
school classmates at the University of Toronto.
The article suggests that British Columbia's harm reduction approach
is some ill-conceived mistake that jeopardizes the lives of people who
use drugs. In fact, Mr. Devine's ideological stance is not based on
evidence, and if enacted, could endanger countless lives.
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Liberal MP says he wasn't thrilled about it at first, but changed his
Cannabis was on the menu at the Belleville & District Chamber of
Commerce's monthly breakfast Wednesday at the Travelodge Hotel, and
Bay of Quinte MP Neil Ellis was pushing it - from a business point of
With Bill C- 45, the Cannabis Act, expected to be law by July 1, Ellis
said the business of marijuana will provide many opportunities, not
just from production of both recreational and medical cannabis, but
from the many sideline businesses it will create.
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Protesters carrying signs saying "Injustice is fatal!" laid dozens of
white carnations next to a coffin on the steps of Montreal City Hall
Tuesday, each representing a life lost to a drugoverdose.
A coalition of community groups, crisis workers, activists and drug
users held a demonstration demanding the government repeal drug laws
that marginalize drug users.
They also held a moment of silence - joining several vigils held
simultaneously across Canada. The opioid crisis claimed nearly 3,000
lives in 2016, and the estimated death toll last year is pegged at
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Harm reduction is more than a job for Karen Kittilsen Levine. Reducing
the numbers of people dying from opioid addiction and blood-borne
disease is something she's determined to do.
"We began doing outreach in Pictou County on November 1 and have more
than 40 clients, and we're beginning outreach in Amherst within a few
days," said Kittilsen Levine, who is the harm reduction coordinator
for the Northern Healthy Connections Society.
The organization collects used needles and distributes clean ones. It
also provides condoms and information on blood-borne diseases.
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Every morning, Kevin Thompson takes a short stroll from his apartment
to the Crosstown Clinic, where he signs in, gets his prescription
medicine, then sits in a small room and injects it before heading off
He follows this routine up to three times a day and has done so
virtually every day for more than a dozen years.
The medicine is diacetylmorphine, the medical term for prescription
"It saved my life. No question, it saved my life," Mr. Thompson, 47,
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With toxic street drugs such as fentanyl killing four British
Columbians a day, much of the response has focused on overdose
treatments with naloxone, and supervised injection sites. Yet
public-health staff have concluded that emergency interventions such
as these will not stop the epidemic. If the supply of these drugs
cannot be halted - and no war on drugs has ever been won - the only
option is to prevent the downward slide that leads to street-drug addiction.
Many of the victims are middle-age men and women who have fought a
lifelong struggle against such challenges as alcoholism, mental
illness, the lasting effects of childhood abuse and more.
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Demonstrators demand change to federal drug policies
Around 200 drug users and advocates took to Vancouver's streets
Tuesday, demanding changes to the federal government's drug policies.
In a national day of action, co-ordinated with cities across Canada,
demonstrators from the Canadian Association of People who Use Drugs
(CAPUD), the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) and other
groups marched through Vancouver's Downtown Eastside from Victory
Square to the B.C. courts building at Hornby and Smithe St.
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Rally in response to the opioid crisis hears tales of loss and 'burnt
Kim Pare said his family did everything they could to help their
bright and beautiful daughter, but in the end she couldn't fight the
illness of addiction.
It's been almost four years since Kaitlyn died, at 24, from a
prescription opioid overdose and from her father's perspective nothing
has really changed.
"We are losing a generation of people who could be valuable members of
our society. We have to help them,' Pare said, speaking to about 30
people at a rally at King and York Sts. Tuesday's event was part of a
National Day of Action in response to the opioid and contaminated drug
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Earlier this month, front-line health workers in Toronto raised the
possibility that part of the city's cocaine supply may be tainted with
fentanyl, after a handful of drug overdoses were connected to users
unknowingly consuming the deadly opioid while smoking crack.
This dismal scenario is common in Canada. Across the country, illicit
drugs are being cut with the synthetic painkiller - which is up to 50
times more potent than heroin - because it is cheap and powerful and
saves dealers money. During a month-long period in the summer of 2016,
86 per cent of the street drugs tested at Vancouver's supervised
injection sitewere laced with fentanyl.
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The AIDS Network is putting itself forward to run Hamilton's first
supervised injectionsite at its downtown Effort Square location.
The AIDS service organization is preparing proposals to the provincial
and federal governments for a permanent site where people can inject
illegal drugs under the watchful eye of trained staff without fear of
Meanwhile, it is also proposing a smaller temporary overdose
prevention site as a stopgap that would allow supervised injection
until the permanent location was approved and operating.
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Decriminalization is the right move , say James Hutt and Emilie
Canada's overdose crisis is getting worse, not better. In 2016, there
were 2,861 opioid-related deaths. Last year, there were more than 4,000.
All of them were preventable.
As the NDP gathers in Ottawa this weekend for its national policy
convention, many hope that this issue will be front and centre. NDP
leader Jagmeet Singh has already indicated that he favours the
decriminalization of all drugs - not because it's the popular but
because it's the right thing to do.
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Fentanyl. The drug is one that most people never even heard of until a
few years ago. Now it strikes fear into the hearts of public health
officials, youth workers, parents and others. A few grains of
fentanyl, often mixed with another recreational drug without the
user's knowledge, can cause death within minutes. It has caused
thousands of overdose deaths in Canada and tens of thousands in the
U.S., and those numbers are rising rapidly.
How have we dealt with this crisis? The primary strategy has been to
supply naloxone, a drug that can reverse the effects of fentanyl, as
widely as possible to police officers, health care providers and
others who are likely to encounter people who have overdosed. The use
of naloxone is a "harm reduction strategy", intended to reduce the
negative consequences of using fentanyl, and it has saved many lives.
But it is not enough. Overdose deaths from fentanyl continue to
increase even after widespread distribution of naloxone kits. We
desperately need another strategy. But what kind of strategy would
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Provincial plan aims to fill gap for communities waiting on permanent
services for opioid crisis
A temporary supervised drug use site will open its doors in London,
Ont., Monday - the first of what is expected to be many under a new
provincial emergency-response program that will fill the gap for
communities waiting on permanent sites.
Thousands of people are dying from overdoses every year across Canada.
In Ontario alone, there were 336 opioid-related deaths between May and
July last year, up 68 per cent from that same period the year before.
Fentanyl, a drug so potent that mere grains of it can be lethal, was a
factor in 67 per cent of those deaths - up from 41 per cent in 2016,
and 19 per cent in 2015.
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Councillors might still squabble over budgets, but no one questions
the fact that the opioid crisis must be solved
Mark Tyndall stood before Vancouver City Council at a recent meeting
to proselytize for his latest harm-reduction scheme: vending machines
to dispense opioids to drug users.
"I really wish we could get 50 of these things going in the next
year," said Dr. Tyndall, executive medical health director of the BC
Centre for Disease Control. "We could supply clean drugs to thousands
of people and our overdose numbers would plummet." He plans to start
with a pilot project in Vancouver.
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The Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit has expanded its harm-reduction
strategy related to intravenous drug users.
With opioid addiction an increasing problem in the local area and
elsewhere, the health unit has set up three 24-hour disposal sites
where users can dispose of old needles.
Needle disposal is a concern for health officials because intravenous
drug abuse is highly correlated with blood-borne illnesses, such as
HIV and hepatitis.
Used needles that aren't properly disposed pose a hazard to young
people who may pick them up or people passing by who are inadvertently
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After three years of addressing substance abuse issues while
patrolling local high schools, city police community services officer
Const. Andy Hatton said he has learned more about how important the
lines of communication are between parents and their children.
Drug Awareness Week continues until Friday and city police and health
care and public health partners point out it's a ideal time to have
serious conversations about the topic.
"Don't be afraid to ask those difficult questions. Don't be afraid to
have those sometimes difficult conversations. It's important to know
what's going on," the officer said during a Tuesday morning launch for
the week at Westmount Pharmacy.
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453 people were revived 'from the brink of death' in 2017, Hamilton
city officials hear
More than one-quarter of naloxone kits distributed through Hamilton
Public Health last year were used to revive someone from an overdose.
Of the 1,700 opioid antidote kits handed out in 2017, 453 were
reportedly used to revive a person.
"Four-hundred and fifty-three people revived from the brink of death.
It's hard to imagine that's anything but a success," said Michael
Parkinson, who works with the Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council
and the Municipal Drug Strategy Coordinators Network of Ontario.
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'Be it resolved the government of Canada should treat drug abuse as a
health issue, expand treatment and harm reduction services and
re-classify low-level drug possession and consumption as
That's the concluding sentence of a draft resolution up for possible
consideration at the federal Liberals' next policy convention, to be
held in Halifax this April. It follows a preamble that suggests Canada
should follow the example of Portugal, which in 2001 did just that,
decriminalizing possession of relatively small amounts of illicit drugs.
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Committee to look at report next week
Sudbury could become home to a safe injection site.
The community services committee will hear next week about the
prospect of undertaking a feasibility study for a site, which will
cost $150,000 to $200,000. Council is being asked to endorse the report.
"Through community consultations, under the mental health and
compassionate city community priorities, the suggested action includes
the study of and possible
establishment of a supervised injection site," a staff report
indicates. "In addition, the establishment of (a safe injection site)
has been prioritized by the community drug strategy as part of the
harm reduction pillar area of responsibility."
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WATERLOO REGION - Regional councillors thanked the public health
department for its harm reduction efforts, but said more needs to be
done to ensure used needles aren't ending up in public spaces.
"I do appreciate the efforts of public health," Cambridge Mayor Doug
Craig said at a council meeting on Tuesday. "But we still have a problem."
The number of needles distributed through Waterloo Region's needle
syringe program has been rising steadily in recent years, reaching a
peak in 2017, according to a report presented this week.
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