Sylvia Scarlata, the chair of the 2017 Task Force on Addressing Opioid Crisis in B.C., and the chief executive officer of the Foundation for Addictions Research Canada (FARC), will be returning home this week after leading a leading international delegation in addressing the opioid crisis, in Ottawa and Toronto. The results from that delegation are a shared commitment to achieving change and having the provincial and federal governments meet on November 30th to discuss the next steps.
The delegation not only met with experts in leadership, clinical care, policy, leadership and politics, it also visited first responders and community organizations. Each day provides a glimpse into the pain and sacrifice addiction and opioid misuse cause.
Statistics: with over 10,000 Canadians overdosing in 2017, and over two-thirds dying – the biggest killer of Canadians aged 15-34 – Canada is confronting an addiction crisis.
The reality is that, while drug use is less common today, opioid dependency remains at record levels.
This crisis is fuelled by both market forces – online pharmacies and trafficking – and supply side responses – legal high stores and the diversion of precursor chemicals.
Because of this synergy, it’s up to all of us to act: we are all complicit.
Public Health Ontario has a clear direction. We need to explore further how to prioritize overdose prevention, and how to expand harm reduction services.
After a meeting with Health Canada and a member of the BC public health team on December 6th, FARC will release our recommendations to each provincial and territorial governments, as well as the federal government.
FARC, along with other agencies working in health, education, and justice, are among those calling for greater collaboration and shared responsibility to bring the crisis to an end.
To get to this goal, the federal government has a significant role.
The federal minister of health must ensure provinces and territories have the resources they need to bring overdose prevention and harm reduction services to the front-line in all their municipalities.
Meanwhile, a multi-stakeholder, co-collaborative approach is needed to obtain and expand supply side response – science, policing, and supply chain institutions like licenced labs and the provincial narcotics control board – to address the demand side.
An unshackled mandate for a cross-government, expert emergency coordination team is needed to galvanize support for both opportunities and actual progress.
An opioid task force and action plan from the federal government is also necessary. All levels of government need to improve access to pain management services. We need to develop policies and protocols, without stigma or second-guessing, to build the voluntary addiction continuum, creating stronger relationships between service providers, education institutions, and practitioners.
We also need to reframe the conversation about addiction. Rather than prescribing opioids to people who have chronic pain, we should be providing non-pharmacological treatments for pain, with patients fully informed about their treatment options.
Whatever actions are taken by the federal government, all levels of government and all participants must work together to find the right resources, and more importantly, the right outcomes.
The rest of the world is watching to see what Canada does next.