City wants federal help to expand naloxone program
Life-saving overdose antidote kits not available on Sundays, public health says
The city will put off a request to distribute more life-saving antioverdose kits until it finds out whether the provincial or federal governments will cover the cost.
The city’s public health department requested extra cash in 2017 to expand distribution of naloxone, a life-saving medicine that reverses the effects of overdose on opioid drugs like heroin and fentanyl.
The city already hands out kits on request and via the needle ex- change van, which travels around Hamilton during the week and on Saturdays handing out clean needles.
But no service is offered on Sundays and the van is so busy during the week it can’t always meet demand, said associate medical officer of health Dr. Jessica Hopkins, in asking Friday for an extra $69,000 to expand the harm reduction program hours.
“This is not a problem that goes away on Sundays.”
Mayor Fred Eisenberger, who recently hosted a summit looking at how to tackle the rising tide of opioid overdoses, urged councillors to approve the “modest” budget bump.
“Getting these kits out there saves lives,” Eisenberger said.
The $69,000 request was significantly less than an earlier $260,000 program expansion estimate made last fall, said Hopkins, because the province has since addressed some identified needs — for example, giving kits to inmates as they’re released from jail.
But some councillors, already concerned about a proposed five per cent budget boost for public health, asked whether other levels of government should be funding the program instead.
Eisenberger said he and other Canadian mayors have been talking to the federal government about a national strategy to tackle the overdose death crisis and added he is confident Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is “keen on participating.”
The budget committee supported a motion from Coun. Sam Merulla to put off a vote on the extra harm reduction funding until the city hears back on a request for federal help.
Merulla, who said he supports expanding the program, later said he expects the city to have a better sense of whether federal cash is coming before the end of this year’s budget deliberations, likely in late March.
“We’re not going to wait on this forever.”
Councillors also put off the debate on whether to adopt a “living wage” minimum pay scale for part-time and contract city workers until Feb. 24. The city already pays full-time employees the locally calculated living wage of at least $15.85. It would cost the city close to $1 million extra a year to bump up the pay of part-time and contract workers such as students, crossing guards and library pages.