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More can be done to prevent opioid
overdoses
Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins’ new measures to fight the
opioid crisis are welcome. But there’s still much more that must be
done to stop the carnage.
The temporary injection site at Toronto's Moss Park was first located
in a tent. (RICHARD LAUTENS / TORONTO STAR) | ORDER THIS
PHOTO
By STAR EDITORIAL BOARD
Sun., Dec. 10, 2017
1. Just how horrific Ontario’s opioid crisis has become came into
sharp focus this past week with the release of timely new data from
Ontario’s chief coroner, Dirk Huyer.
2. Sadly, from May to July of this year there were 336 opioid-related
deaths in the province, up from 201 in that same period last year.
That represents a staggering 68-per-cent increase.
3. Health Minister Eric Hoskins put a human face on the startling
statistics when he reminded Ontarians that “each and every one of
these numbers is a person: someone who was loved by their family,
someone who won’t be coming home this holiday season.”
4. Just as shocking was the number of emergency-department visits
related to opioid overdoses in the province. Between July and
September there were 2,449. That’s a hike of 115 per cent from the
same period a year earlier.
5. No wonder Hoskins termed it a “public health crisis” and
announced sensible actions his ministry is taking to prevent the
rapid increase in opioid-related deaths and hospitalizations.
6. For one, the Ontario government will offer 61 police services and
447 fire departments free naloxone kits. The drug can reverse an
overdose.
7. Ontario has also received an exemption for temporary overdose
prevention centres from federal Health Minister Ginette Petitpas
Taylor to ensure that nurses and other harm-reduction staff
working at any pop-up sites that are not approved by Ottawa are
not prosecuted.
8. “This new ability would strengthen Ontario’s harm reduction efforts
in communities and protect the courageous front-line workers at
these sites from federal prosecution,” Hoskins said.
9. That’s good news for volunteer nurses and staff at the pop-up safe
injection trailer at Toronto’s Moss Park. They set their site up in
August, initially in a tent, to prevent drug users from overdosing. At
the time, none of the three federally approved sites in Toronto had
opened its doors.
10. Since then the city has opened two of the sites. One, on Victoria
Street in the Yonge-Dundas area, opened shortly after the Moss
Park pop-up tent was set up. Another at South Riverdale
Community Health Centre opened on Nov. 27. A third at Queen
West-Central Community Health Clinic is hoping to open its doors
by mid-January.
11. Much more can be done.
12. First, Ontario municipalities should apply to open up more
permanent injection centres and encourage more pop-up sites.
British Columbia, for example, has more than 20 temporary
supervised injection sites, in addition to its permanent sites.
13. Second, questions about legal liability for police officers who use
naloxone on people they suspect are overdosing must be cleared up.
14. Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit, the province’s police
watchdog, must make clear — as B.C.’s comparable unit has — that
police will not come under scrutiny if someone dies during lifesaving treatment. Otherwise, the province’s police departments
can’t be expected to ask their officers to carry naloxone.
15. Last week the SIU simply reiterated that it is “mandated to
investigate any incident involving police where there has been
serious injury, death or an allegation of sexual assault.” That’s not
good enough.
16. Third, the province must make clear how long it is going to pay
for the $120 kits. Police departments may be wary of starting to
carry the kits if the costs won’t be covered down the road.
17. While the kits are not a magic pill for saving lives they do offer
hope until trained emergency responders arrive on the scene.
18. Indeed, the Canadian Mental Health Association even urged
bars, restaurants and other public venues to start stocking the lifesaving kits. And the Ontario government has made them free at
some pharmacies to anyone carrying an OHIP card.
19. In the end, as Hoskins pointed out, numbers can never tell the
story of a life lost to an overdose. But here’s one last sobering
statistic: Some 3,000 people, or about eight a day, are expected to
die of opioid overdoses across the country this year. Hopefully, the
new measures adopted last week and those still to come will help
stem that sad tide.
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