$260,000 sought to expand anti-overdose program
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.