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article imageOp-Ed: Canada's growing opioid crisis — talking about it won't help

By Karen Graham     Dec 27, 2016 in Health
Calgary - For well over a decade, health professionals, law enforcement officials, the media and others concerned over the growing opioid epidemic in Canada and the U.S. have been calling for urgent action on what has become an epidemic in both nations.
In a sad commentary, is saying the opioid crisis "doesn't qualify as news anymore." And in some respects, that has become true, even as dozens of Canadians and Americans die each week from opioid overdoses.
Calgary Police Chief Roger Chaffin gave an interview with The Canadian Press, saying it's time for the Alberta government to take more aggressive action on fentanyl if it wants to help the many addicts and their families whose lives have been destroyed.
"It is a crisis," he said, according to CTV News. "Look at the numbers of deaths. Numbers of homicides and traffic fatalities don't come anywhere near the deaths associated with these drugs."
Chaffin is voicing the same concern expressed by many Canadians and Americans. "People are going to keep arguing about whether this is a crisis or not. It just shocks me," Chaffin said. "We're wasting all our energy arguing about whether this should be called a public health crisis or not. Spend your energy fixing the problem."
South of the Canadian border, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is reporting that opioid overdose deaths and opioid-involved deaths have quadrupled in the U.S. since 1999, with 91 people dying every day.
The federal response to the opioid epidemic
Looking at the initial response to the opioid crisis on both sides of the border, we have seen the opening of many safe injection sites where drug users can inject themselves, knowing someone will be there in case they overdose.
We have seen naloxone made more freely available so that the antidote can be administered immediately when a law enforcement officer or paramedic encounters someone who has overdosed. Naloxone is now being given to family members to have on hand, in many cases, just in case a loved one does overdose.
And yes, many local governments in towns and cities across both nations have attempted to address the opioid epidemic, opening crisis centers, and creating committees to study the problem. But their hands are tied by a lack of funds or even a lack of public interest, in many cases. It does take money, and lots of it to set up and man drug intervention sites and educate the public on the abuse of drugs, but words don't really help.
"We need to get these people out of the lifestyle they're in and get them into more healthy lifestyles, improve their families, improve their wellness in this community and change the quality of life in Calgary. That won't happen by one-off programs or relying on the police to arrest dealers," Chaffin said.
What is the Canadian government doing?
An interim Report of the Standing Committee on Health was published November 18, 2016. In it, the Health Committee states that the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health (“the Committee”) passed a motion on 22 September 2016 agreeing “to undertake an emergency study of the opioid crisis in Canada.
After listening to testimony from witnesses, including federal and provincial government representatives, health care professionals, addiction experts, emergency front-line responders, representatives of First Nations communities and individuals with experience in substance abuse and addiction, the report states a compelling conclusion: urgent action is needed to address the crisis.
The Canadian government is well aware of the opioid crisis, and a total of 38 recommendations have been suggested. Canada has the same problems as those encountered in the U.S. — a lack of intervention facilities, and not enough properly trained doctors, medical staff, public support or money.
Not only do we need to address the opioid crisis at home, but we need to stop the flow of synthetic opioids coming into Canada and the U.S. from overseas, primarily China and Mexico. The ease of using the Internet to buy illicit drugs is criminal and better inspection of packages arriving into the country is needed.
Canada's recommendations also include better access to mental health care facilities in treating addicts and their families, something that is lacking in both countries. The big takeaway from the Canadian report is that the perception of drug addiction will have to be addressed, and by everyone. Addiction is a disease, and it's insidious because it creeps into people, one by one, until a whole family, then a community, then a country is affected.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about opioid crisis, Canada, United States, opioid overdoses, Addiction
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