What is the government doing to tackle the fentanyl crisis?
Published Monday, January 9, 2017 8:49PM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, January 10, 2017 7:26AM EST
The fentanyl crisis that has already claimed hundreds of lives in western Canada is now moving east and quickly becoming a national epidemic.
Politicians and health officials met in Toronto on Monday to discuss solutions to the urgent problem.
Fentanyl is a powerful painkiller, roughly 100 times more potent than morphine. A dose of just two milligrams of pure fentanyl can be lethal.
Ontario reported 166 deaths linked to fentanyl in 2015, according to preliminary data from the chief coroner's office.
Toronto has seen a 77 per cent increase in overdose deaths in the past decade, rising to 258 in 2014.
Statistics for 2016 are not yet available for Ontario.
B.C. has reported 374 fentanyl related deaths between January and October 2016. Alberta reported 193 deaths in 2016 that were linked to fentanyl.
The recent spike in fentanyl related deaths has brought criticism that the government isn’t doing enough to stop it.
"I think that it is that the whole country isn't suffering from the same problem -- it's B.C. and Alberta," Hedy Fry, a Liberal MP for Vancouver Centre, said in an interview Sunday. "It's now starting in Ontario, and I would suggest to you that once it gets bad in Ontario, we will notice action being taken."
But Health Minister Jane Philpott argued that there has been progress.
“The reality is we’ve actually been extremely active on this [problem] right from the very beginning,” she said during an interview with CTV Power Play.
She told CTV Power Play that one of her first actions as Health Minister was to approve the fentanyl antidote drug, naloxone, as on over-the-counter drug. It was approved in 2016. Non-prescription nasal spray was also approved in Oct. 2016.
She also talked about her efforts to gather organizations from across the country to address the root causes of the crisis, such as mental illness, poverty and stigma, as well as help with prevention. The collective of organizations would deliver a “comprehensive response” to the crisis to help “save lives and get people into treatment.”
Toronto Mayor John Tory, who was also at the Monday meeting, believes there is a lot to be done to tackle the opioid crisis.
"I don't think that we can sit back and be complacent for one moment," he said in an interview ahead of the Monday meeting.
In an interview with CTV Power Play on Monday he laid out some practical steps to address the issue that he hopes will be implemented quickly.
In line with the suggestion of first responders, Tory said making sure naloxone is available in more places is top priority.
Tory also called on the federal government to pass the good Samaritan legislation “so people aren’t afraid to call 911” when someone is overdosing. He also urged them to give approval for supervised injection sites.
On Monday, the Ontario government gave the go-ahead for three new sites, two in Toronto and one in Ottawa. Although, it may be months before they are officially up and running. Tory told CTV Power Play that they still need approval from the federal government, as well as build the facilities and train people. But Tory said he hopes they open “as soon as possible to save lives.”
Currently, Vancouver is the only Canadian city that has a supervised injection site.
He also hopes to expand the availability of programs that treat people with drug problems. “Those are wholly inadequate across the country right now and that is a systemic problem that needs to be addressed nationally,” he said.
The federal government has recently announced a large investment into mental health services across the country.
Finally, he suggested testing recreational drugs to ensure they’re safe for consumption, possibly similar to the drug test service in Amsterdam.
“If we could have some kind of test that says ‘this drug is dangerous, you shouldn’t touch this’ […] this is going to help prevent some of these kinds of overdoses,” he suggested.
According to Tory, these measures would help “make sure that the people who are dying in the streets of our cities no longer are doing so in cases where it’s preventable,” he said.
Philpott added: “There’s obviously still much more to do […] This isn’t something any single level of government is going to be able to solve. This is a whole of society challenge; it involves all levels of government working together.”