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Ontario earmarks extra $222M to fight opioid crisis

Posted on 09 September 2017 by admin

The funding increase over three years will provide for more naloxone kits for overdoses, more supervised injection sites and more “rapid-access” clinics.

More supervised drug injection sites and “rapid access” clinics will open across Ontario as the province earmarks another $222 million over three years to fight the growing opioid crisis.

The extra money, which came as the provincial coroner revealed opioid deaths rose 19 per cent last year to 865 people, will also fund more harm-reduction workers and naloxone kits to reverse overdoses.

Health Minister Eric Hoskins made the announcement Tuesday amid concerns from opposition parties and front-line addiction workers that the government hasn’t acted quickly or thoroughly enough.

“Too many lives have already been lost,” Hoskins, a doctor, said at St. Michael’s Hospital, which houses a rapid access clinic providing immediate treatment and longer-term withdrawal support for addicts.

“This is a dramatic increase in funding,” he boasted. He said the province has now set aside more than $280 million to combat the opioid scourge.

The details were revealed a day after 700 addictions workers, including doctors, released an open letter to Premier Kathleen Wynne, urging her to supply more help and a declaration that the opioid situation is a public health emergency.

One of those activists, harm-reduction worker Zoe Dodd, who helps staff an increasingly busy pop-up safe-injection site in Moss Park with other volunteers, challenged Hoskins to provide more support for these services.

“If they had acted sooner and they listened to us on the front lines, yeah, maybe we could have stopped some of the deaths. We could have got a handle on this,” she said after the minister’s news conference.

The $9 million in funding in the plan for front-line workers won’t go far enough, Dodd added, predicting the “heartbreaking” 2017 death toll will increase from last year’s numbers.

Chief provincial coroner Dr. Dirk Huyer, who released the grim opioid death statistics from 2016, said he hopes to be able to report 2017 numbers more quickly to better track the dangers to public health.

Hoskins said the enhanced plan to tackle opioids has been “weeks in the making” and follows on $15 million pledged in June to help local health agencies hire staff and hand out naloxone kits, used to revive drug users from overdoses until they can get hospital treatment.

“This is a national crisis composed of literally thousands of individual tragedies,” he added.

“Any life lost . . . is an entirely preventable tragedy.”

Other elements of the plan include $70 million to provide long-term support to people with addictions, $7.6 million to increase addictions treatment in primary care such as doctor’s offices, and $15 million to help doctors and nurse practitioners provide “appropriate” pain management and alternatives to opioids for patients.

There is also $20 million for support intended for Indigenous communities and youth.

“The government has been pretty slow and ineffectual to this point,” said Progressive Conservative MPP and pharmacist Jeff Yurek (Elgin-Middlesex-London).

“Hopefully, this answers the call.”

Addictions and Mental Health Ontario, a group representing 220 organizations, applauded the new Hoskins plan as a “comprehensive strategy” that will plug gaps such as the lack of withdrawal-management services for youth.

“Wait lists for publicly funded treatment, services and supports are lengthy and growing,” said chief executive officer Gail Czukar.

“This investment will enable more front-line workers to not only save lives, but to help people with opioid use disorder live healthier lives and support recovery.”

Earlier in the day, Premier Kathleen Wynne explained why her government isn’t declaring the opioid crisis an emergency.

“When there’s an emergency declaration, you’re usually dealing with a situation that has a beginning and a foreseeable end, whether it’s a flood or a fire,” Wynne said at a cultural announcement.

“The challenge with this situation is this is not a situation that has a foreseeable end … We’re talking about a crisis that is going to be ongoing.”

Opioids, which include legal drugs such as oxycodone and morphine, are often prescribed for pain management, but also provide a “high” that proves addictive for some.

Increasingly, the powerful painkiller fentanyl is being mixed with other drugs and this is blamed for overdoses, and has prompted police to issue safety alerts. Harm-reduction workers have called for funds to allow users to test drugs before consuming them, so they know what substances are present.

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