$260,000 sought to ex­pand anti-over­dose pro­gram

The Hamilton Spectator - - LOCAL - MATTHEW VAN DONGEN mvan­don­gen@thes­pec.com 905-526-3241 | @Mat­tatthes­pec

Hamil­ton’s public health team is ask­ing for a $260,000 bud­get boost this year to ex­pand dis­tri­bu­tion of anti-over­dose kits in the face of a na­tional opi­oid cri­sis.

Since 2014 the city has handed out 582 nalox­one kits, which con­tain in­jectable medicine that re­verses the ef­fects of an over­dose from opi­oids like heroin, mor­phine and fen­tanyl. Of­fi­cials be­lieve at least 148 lives have been saved as a di­rect re­sult.

The prov­ince an­nounced a nalox­one pro­gram ex­pan­sion of its own last sum­mer, in­clud­ing plans to give kits to peo­ple re­leased from jail. It al­ready cov­ers the cost of kits dis­trib­uted by mu­nic­i­pal public health units.

But so far there is no ex­tra pro­vin­cial money to pay more nurses or out­reach work­ers to get those kits to ad­dicts, says a re­port go­ing to the city’s bud­get com­mit­tee Fri­day.

That means city tax­pay­ers will be asked to cover the cost of hir­ing another public health nurse and two out­reach work­ers, un­der Hamil­ton’s nalox­one ex­pan­sion plan for 2017.

“It’s a chal­lenge … (but) I think we need to act,” said Mayor Fred Eisen­berger, who re­cently hosted an opi­oid cri­sis sum­mit of po­lice, health-care work­ers and af­fected res­i­dents.

“In the long-term, we cer­tainly need to pur­sue the prov­ince and fed­eral gov­ern­ment for more re­sources. But in the short term, I think peo­ple un­der­stand this is­sue is a real prob­lem lo­cally and we need to re­act.”

Right now, pro­vin­cial fund­ing cov­ers a part-time public health nurse to co-or­di­nate nalox­one pro­gram train­ing, out­reach and re­spond­ing to client re­quests for the kits. The re­quested fund­ing would add a full-time nurse to co-or­di­nate the pro­gram.

Many nalox­one kits are handed out via the public-health-spon­sored nee­dle ex­change van. But the re­port says that trav­el­ling ser­vice is get­ting busier and “mul­ti­ple clients are be­ing turned away from the van each week.”

The re­quested bud­get boost would ex­pand the harm-re­duc­tion pro­gram ser­vice dur­ing the week and add Sunday hours as well.

The re­quest comes as coun­cil­lors ask city de­part­ments to search for more bud­get sav­ings to stave off a pos­si­ble av­er­age tax hike of four or five per cent. Be­hind closed doors, staffing cuts or a hir­ing freeze have also been dis­cussed.

Coun. Sam Merulla called the planned anti-over­dose kit ex­pan­sion “crit­i­cally im­por­tant,” but noted the re­port also calls for other lev­els of gov­ern­ment to ante up.

“To force the lo­cal tax­payer to cover the cost of deal­ing with an is­sue that clearly re­quires a na­tional strat­egy and a na­tional re­sponse, I have a prob­lem with that,” he said.

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