Opioid crisis: The time to act is now

Casting aside party politics, it’s time for Ottawa to prioritize the devastating opioid crisis gripping communities across Canada. Ottawa was one of the first Canadian cities to launch a response to the crisis, when…

Opioid crisis: The time to act is now

Casting aside party politics, it’s time for Ottawa to prioritize the devastating opioid crisis gripping communities across Canada.

Ottawa was one of the first Canadian cities to launch a response to the crisis, when it launched the city’s multi-front approach to addressing this public health emergency in 2016. Over 100 deaths a day, including an unprecedented 5,800 overdoses across the country, were reported over just the first six months of that year.

Nationally, the Canadian government has spent $46 million on opioid response efforts over the past five years. This amount pales in comparison to the nearly $1 billion that has been spent in the U.S. on the overdose crisis, which has led to over 31,000 deaths since 2010.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen initiatives rolled out across Canada, but it’s time for Ottawa to commit to a longer-term plan. All cities agree on the scale of the problem and the urgency of addressing it, but we are still waiting for the federal government to act on behalf of our own towns and cities.

The recent announcement by the federal government, which sought to reduce health costs while investing in overdose prevention resources, is a welcome effort, but does not go far enough.

The greater cost of inaction is laid bare with the recent official Canadian Urban Municipalities Association survey of 1,272 Canadian cities, rural and urban, which found that the cost of the addiction crisis was felt more heavily by city governments, with a total of $435 million spent on drugs, emergency medical services and related costs in 2015.

At the other end of the spectrum, the cost of first-responder services was comparatively low, at only $111 million.

OPAL Ontario, the anti-opioid commission, and the Canadian College of Emergency Physicians want to know what steps Ottawa is taking to create a clean supply of safe, accessible naloxone. Only 3% of deaths and 10% of drug-related emergency department visits involve the reversal of an opioid overdose, but CEM is requesting the country’s naloxone supply be made more readily available by waiving certain restrictions on use.

Ottawa is also doing nothing to address the decriminalization of possession of small amounts of this class of drugs. If the government is truly committed to addressing the overdose crisis, then bringing in this legislation should be a priority. Naloxone reverses opioid overdoses, but most people don’t know how to do this themselves. A total of 50,000 doses of naloxone, three times what is in circulation now, could prevent 100 deaths in a single year.

But even if Ottawa follows through on its commitments to combat the overdose crisis, drug use is a national issue, and it is clear that most Canadians don’t have access to sufficient resources to address their own communities’ opioid issues. That is why it is essential that all cities and communities across Canada coordinate and pool their resources to address this crisis in a coordinated manner.

Communities that are able to establish naloxone programs in existing pharmacies are some of the best positioned to best fulfill the needs of their communities.

Communities have the ability to coordinate efforts within their city and toward a targeted and consistent action plan that connects city leaders with organizations that are best positioned to respond to the challenge.

By strengthening the role of the community in the drug crisis response, city leaders will be more likely to successfully identify appropriate interventions, such as naloxone provision, before it’s too late. Working together, communities will be better able to work with the province and other partners to seize the prevention and the treatment of the opioid crisis.

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