City anx­ious to se­cure opi­oid fund­ing

Hamil­ton coun­cil look­ing to get a piece of Ot­tawa’s $65M to tackle grow­ing cri­sis

The Hamilton Spectator - - LOCAL - MOLLY HAYES mhayes@thes­ 905-526-3214 | @mol­ly­hayes

City coun­cil­lors are op­ti­mistic about a na­tional opi­oid strat­egy — and what the promised fund­ing could mean for Hamil­ton.

Coun­cil put off a de­ci­sion at the gen­eral is­sues com­mit­tee on Feb. 17 to ex­pand lo­cal harm re­duc­tion pro­grams so staff could ex­plore po­ten­tial fed­eral fund­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Pub­lic health is look­ing for $69,000 to boost its nee­dle ex­change pro­gram and ex­pand lo­cal ac­cess to nalox­one, an opi­oid an­ti­dote used to re­verse the ef­fects of an over­dose. And while coun­cil­lors did not dis­pute the need for th­ese pro­grams, they ques­tioned why the mu­nic­i­pal­ity should have to cover the costs.

Af­ter the fed­eral govern­ment is­sued its fund­ing an­nounce­ment last week, it seems their tim­ing was spot on.

“It looks like this fund­ing is ex­actly what this coun­cil called for,” Coun. Matthew Green said.

Jane Philpott, the fed­eral min­is­ter of health, pledged last Fri­day to spend $65 mil­lion over the next five years to tackle the opi­oid cri­sis, as well as an ad­di­tional $10 mil­lion to Bri­tish Columbia, which has suf­fered the most dev­as­ta­tion.

Close to 700 peo­ple are be­lieved to have died of opi­oid-re­lated causes in On­tario in 2015 — close to 50 of them in Hamil­ton. And while it’s tough to mea­sure how many peo­ple died in 2016, ex­perts are con­fi­dent the death toll is on the rise — par­tic­u­larly given the con­fir­ma­tion that the drugs fen­tanyl and car­fen­tanil have hit our streets.

Both boot­leg fen­tanyl — a drug 1,000 times stronger than mor­phine — and car­fen­tanil — a drug 1,000 times stronger than fen­tanyl — have been seized by po­lice in Hamil­ton. Just a few grains of th­ese drugs can be lethal.

“I would say part of Hamil­ton’s ad­van­tage is that we’ve been kind of lead­ing the way, re­gion­ally out­side of Toronto, on opi­oid pro­grams ... we’d al­ready been look­ing at the fea­si­bil­ity of safe in­jec­tion sites and now we’re look­ing to ex­pand our nalox­one pro­gram,” Green said.

Coun. Ai­dan John­son agrees this could be good news for the city but is anx­ious to see a dol­lar fig­ure be­fore mak­ing any as­sump­tions.

“We know that there is spe­cial money ear­marked for Bri­tish Columbia be­cause they have all kinds of spe­cial press­ing needs. But there’s also go­ing to be money flow­ing to ad­dic­tion prob­lems in On­tario, so maybe there will be money to pay for this — free­ing up money in our bud­get to do other good things,” John­son said.

“Let’s not spend money if the feds are weeks away from giv­ing it to us.”

But Michael Parkin­son, a mem­ber of the Mu­nic­i­pal Drug Strat­egy Co­or­di­na­tors’ Net­work of On­tario, is skep­ti­cal about how far the money from Ot­tawa will go given its goals. “There’s noth­ing in here for pre­ven­tion. We’re al­ways at the harm­re­duc­tion and cri­sis-re­sponse mode.”

The fed­eral govern­ment list goals such as boost­ing lab test­ing ca­pac­ity, im­ple­ment­ing a na­tional aware­ness cam­paign, in­creas­ing re­search and strength­en­ing data sur­veil­lance, in­creas­ing sup­ports for First Na­tions and Inuit com­mu­ni­ties, and cre­at­ing pos­si­ble grant op­por­tu­ni­ties.

“That might be the (piece) for mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties and or­ga­ni­za­tions, af­ter ev­ery­body else has got their cut. But di­vide that by 12 prov­inces and ter­ri­to­ries, and then by ci­ties ... you’re not look­ing at a lot of money,” Parkin­son said.

And while he feels the prov­ince should also step up to the plate, Parkin­son notes we are 17 years into this cri­sis and still wait­ing for ad­e­quate re­sources.

“My gen­eral ad­vice is not to as­sume that lead­er­ship and re­sources will come from an­other level of govern­ment, but to save lives wher­ever and when­ever you can at the lo­cal level.”

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