City wants fed­eral help to ex­pand nalox­one pro­gram

Life-sav­ing over­dose an­ti­dote kits not avail­able on Sun­days, pub­lic health says

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

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.

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