May­ors urge feds to lead on overdose deaths cri­sis

Cape Breton Post - - Canada -

May­ors across Canada are calling for fed­eral lead­er­ship on the “na­tional emer­gency” of over­doses by en­sur­ing prov­inces pro­vide timely ac­cess to ad­dic­tion treat­ment and by launch­ing pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion cam­paigns.

Van­cou­ver Mayor Gre­gor Robert­son, who heads a task force of the big city may­ors cau­cus on the opi­oid cri­sis, said he and his coun­ter­parts in 12 other cities agree the sit­u­a­tion is so dire that Ot­tawa must take a lead­er­ship role if ju­ris­dic­tions are not mov­ing fast enough to save lives.

Fed­eral Health Min­is­ter Jane Philpott said last month she’s frustrated with prov­inces and ter­ri­to­ries that have not pro­vided her with in­for­ma­tion on overdose deaths de­spite re­peated re­quests.

“We are in a na­tional pub­lic health cri­sis in Canada,” Philpott’s press sec­re­tary, An­drew MacK­endrick, said in a state­ment Thurs­day on be­half of the min­is­ter, who was un­avail­able. “Min­is­ter Philpott is com­mit­ted to us­ing ev­ery lever at her dis­posal to com­bat this cri­sis, and to work­ing with all lev­els of gov­ern­ment and part­ners across the coun­try to do so.”

Robert­son said some prov­inces are “drag­ging their feet” on data col­lec­tion but the fed­eral gov­ern­ment must step in with a stan­dard­ized for­mat to gather the in­for­ma­tion, which should be re­ported pub­licly at least ev­ery quar­ter.

“It’s shock­ing when this epi­demic is sweep­ing across Canada, when facts are be­ing with­held,” he said in an in­ter­view, not­ing Van­cou­ver col­lects weekly in­for­ma­tion on the number of fa­tal and non-fa­tal over­doses while the pro­vin­cial coro­ner’s ser­vice pub­lishes monthly up­dates on its web­site.

The ser­vice said there were 347 drug overdose fa­tal­i­ties in Bri­tish Columbia be­tween Jan­uary and March, putting the to­tal on track to sur­pass the record 931 il­licit drug deaths last year, many in­volv­ing the painkiller fen­tanyl.

“It’s a hu­man catas­tro­phe and it’s tak­ing an enor­mous toll on first re­spon­ders and we can’t with­stand this pace for much longer,” Robert­son said, adding a co-or­di­nated re­sponse in­volv­ing all lev­els of gov­ern­ment is also es­sen­tial to en­sure that fed­eral funds are di­rected to­ward re­mov­ing bar­ri­ers to treat­ment.

Across Canada, about 2,000 peo­ple died from opi­oid over­doses in 2015, the Cen­tre for Ad­dic­tion and Men­tal Health has said, adding the number is headed even higher this year.

Robert­son and his coun­ter­parts on the task force, which is part of the Fed­er­a­tion of Cana­dian Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, say ad­dic­tion treat­ment is es­sen­tial, in­clud­ing med­i­cally su­per­vised opi­oid sub­sti­tu­tion ther­apy and pre­scrip­tion heroin for peo­ple who haven’t re­sponded to other forms of in­ter­ven­tion.

Robert­son said giv­ing peo­ple a place to use drugs un­der su­per­vi­sion is one of the first lines of de­fence to re­duce overdose deaths but most prov­inces aren’t pro­vid­ing that ser­vice.

The may­ors said pre­vent­ing deaths will re­quire all four pil­lars of the Cana­dian Drugs and Sub­stances Strat­egy, in­clud­ing harm re­duc­tion, treat­ment, pre­ven­tion and en­force­ment, which in­cludes na­tional pro­to­cols for the han­dling of po­ten­tially deadly fen­tanyl and the even more lethal drug car­fen­tanil.

Van­cou­ver has been at the fore­front of drug pol­icy, first by open­ing North Amer­ica’s only su­per­vised-in­jec­tion clinic in 2003, and later by pro­vid­ing the only in­jectable heroin pro­gram on the con­ti­nent, though it has a long wait list.

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