The time to fight the drug epi­demic is now

The Hamilton Spectator - - OPINION - Graham Rock­ing­ham

The city’s as­so­ciate med­i­cal health of­fi­cer, Dr. Jes­sica Hop­kins, re­cently ap­peared be­fore city coun­cil with a mod­est re­quest — an ex­tra $69,000 in the pub­lic health depart­ment’s bat­tle against the deadly opioid cri­sis.

Specif­i­cally, the depart­ment wants the money to dis­trib­ute more anti-over­dose kits con­tain­ing nalox­one, a life-sav­ing medicine that re­v­erses the ef­fects of over­dose from drugs like heroin and fen­tanyl.

The re­quest seems more than rea­son­able. It makes sense. Lives are at im­me­di­ate risk with the drug epi­demic that is sweep­ing the coun­try.

Ex­perts at all lev­els of gov­ern­ment are agreed the coun­try is in the midst of a cri­sis. Close to 700 peo­ple died of opioid-re­lated causes in On­tario in 2015, and the death toll is on the rise.

Cur­rently, pub­lic health of­fi­cials hand out nalox­one kits through the nee­dle ex­change van six days a week. On Sun­days, how­ever, over­dose vic­tims are out of luck. The depart­ment asked for the funds to ex­pand the pro­gram to seven days a week, some­thing that could save lives im­me­di­ately.

“Get­ting these kits out there saves lives,” Mayor Fred Eisen­berger said dur­ing the coun­cil meet­ing at which it was de­cided to de­lay fund­ing.

Ev­ery­one on coun­cil seems to agree the $69,000 in ex­tra fund­ing would be well spent. Nonethe­less, coun­cil de­cided to de­lay the de­ci­sion un­til it finds out whether it can ex­pect fund­ing from the pro­vin­cial and fed­eral gov­ern­ments.

We un­der­stand that the city is in a tough fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tion, try­ing to keep tax in­creases down while costs in­evitably rise. We un­der­stand cuts must be made.

But $69,000 isn’t a lot of money, es­pe­cially if it saves just one life. It’s sub­stan­tially less than a city coun­cil­lor’s an­nual salary. It’s the sort of cash coun­cil can prob­a­bly draw on from any num­ber of sources avail­able to it.

Yes, it seems that fed­eral fund­ing will even­tu­ally come. We don’t know when, though, or how much, or if any of it will come to the city.

Coun­cil­lors have said they will likely revisit the fund­ing re­quest, per­haps be­fore the end of bud­get de­lib­er­a­tions, per­haps in late March.

But you have to won­der: If lives are at stake, why the de­lay? Get it done now.

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