City anxious to secure opioid funding
Hamilton council looking to get a piece of Ottawa’s $65M to tackle growing crisis
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.”