‘EPI­DEMIC’ ON OUR HANDS

Stark num­bers highlight coun­try’s opi­oid ad­dic­tion

Ottawa Sun - - NEWS - JOANNE LAU­CIUS Source: Cana­dian In­sti­tute for Health In­for­ma­tion

Ginette Petit­pas Tay­lor, Fed­eral Min­is­ter of Health, stopped by the Shep­herds of Good Hope, where they of­fer treat­ment for sub­stance use, in Ottawa yes­ter­day.

New fig­ures on opi­oid over­doses lay bare the scope of what Canada’s health min­is­ter on Thurs­day called a “se­ri­ous epi­demic” that’s sweep­ing the coun­try.

Cana­dian In­sti­tute For Health In­for­ma­tion data re­leased Thurs­day re­vealed there were about 2,800 opi­oid-re­lated deaths across Canada in 2016 — more than the num­ber of Cana­di­ans who died at the height of the HIV epi­demic in 1995.

“We face a se­ri­ous epi­demic, and the na­tional pic­ture shows that,” Ginette Petit­pas Tay­lor said Thurs­day, re­spond­ing to the new data af­ter tour­ing the Shep­herds of Good Hope in the ByWard Mar­ket.

The opi­oid cri­sis is hav­ing a “sig­nif­i­cant” im­pact on the health care sys­tem, the in­sti­tute said, with more opi­oid pa­tients be­ing seen in emer­gency de­part­ments, more be­ing hos­pi­tal­ized and the lengths of stay grow­ing longer.

Al­though fig­ures haven’t yet been fi­nal­ized, more than 600 peo­ple died of ap­par­ent opi­oid-re­lated deaths across the coun­try in the first three months of 2017, al­though the fi­nal num­ber is likely higher.

On av­er­age, eight peo­ple die ev­ery day. About three­quar­ters of th­ese are male.

“We will most likely see 3,000 lives lost in 2017,” said Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief Pub­lic Health of­fi­cer.

Many over­doses in­volve other sub­stances — 84 per cent in­volved a sub­stance, such as co­caine or al­co­hol, that was not an opi­oid.

“The cri­sis is not lim­ited to opi­oids,” said Petit­pas Tay­lor. “This is im­por­tant be­cause it demon­strates the com­plex­ity of the prob­lem.”

The area around the Shep­herds of Good Hope at the cor­ner of Murray Street and King Ed­ward Av­enue is the epi­cen­tre of the cri­sis in Ottawa. The Shep­herds al­ready has a “man­aged opi­oid pro­gram,” launched about a month ago, which of­fers hy­dro­mor­phone, a pre­scrip­tion opi­oid, for clients. The pro­gram is aimed at pre­vent­ing peo­ple from seek­ing street opi­oids, which may be laced with fen­tanyl. So far, there are about three par­tic­i­pants.

The Shep­herds does not have a safe in­jec­tion site, where clients can con­sume drugs un­der med­i­cal su­per­vi­sion. It is among the lo­ca­tions listed un­der an Ottawa In­ner City Health ap­pli­ca­tion for an ex­emp­tion to of­fer a safe con­sump­tion ser­vices, but the ex­emp­tion has not yet been granted.

And with the win­ter months ahead, there are con­cerns that opi­oid users in the Shep­herds’ home­less pop­u­la­tion will be even more vul­ner­a­ble.

“We’ve never seen any­thing like this,” said Dei­dre Frei­heit, the Shep­herds’ ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor. “Our staff are ab­so­lutely fa­tigued. We’re see­ing mul­ti­ple over­doses ev­ery day. Staff are over­whelmed with the num­ber of in­ter­ven­tions just to keep peo­ple alive.”

Health Canada has granted an ex­emp­tion that will pave the way for the city’s first su­per­vised in­jec­tion site to open in Sandy Hill. Ottawa Pub­lic Health an­nounced ear­lier this week that it plans to open its own su­per­vised in­jec­tion site in the ByWard Mar­ket. But right now, the only place that Shep­herds of Good Hope clients can to in­ject Ginette Petit­pas Tay­lor, fed­eral Health Min­is­ter drugs un­der su­per­vi­sion is an unau­tho­rized “pop-up” site at Raphael Brunet Park in Low­er­town.

How­ever, most over­doses hap­pen be­tween 8 p.m. and 2 a.m., and the pop-up site closes at 9 p.m, said Frei­heit.

“The pop-up is do­ing amaz­ing work, but it is not less­en­ing the bur­den here,” she said. “While we wait, we’re do­ing as best we can.”

Petit­pas Tay­lor said she is plac­ing an em­pha­sis on re­mov­ing the stigma from peo­ple who use drugs. Mean­while, there is still a lot of work to be done, she said. Some $7.5 mil­lion in re­search fund­ing was an­nounced Thurs­day to study how to best in­te­grate ev­i­dence-based in­ter­ven­tions into prac­ti­cal set­tings.

“I re­ally want peo­ple to know what we are com­mit­ted to get­ting this right,” said Petit­pas Tay­lor.

8: Av­er­age daily num­ber of opi­oidrelated deaths in Canada

16: Av­er­age num­ber of daily opi­oid poi­son­ings re­sult­ing in hos­pi­tal­iza­tion in Canada in 2016-2017

19 per cent: In­crease com­pared to 2014-2015

53 per cent: In­crease over the past decade

15 to 24: Age group with the fastest-grow­ing rate of opi­oid poi­son­ing hos­pi­tal­iza­tion in the past decade

10x: In­crease in emer­gency depart­ment vis­its for heroin poi­son­ing over the past five years in Al­berta

4x: In­crease in On­tario

31 per cent: Pro­por­tion of self-in­flicted harm, in­clud­ing sui­cide at­tempts, at­trib­uted to opi­oid poi­son­ing in the past year

JULIE OLIVER

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