Forgotten People: The Opioid Crisis in Canada
Every day in Canada 11 people lose their lives due to drug overdose related to opioids. Though this is not as many people who die of cancer each year in our country (30%) but this is a growing national health crisis. In 2018 alone 4,460 people died from opioid related substance use and that number is just too high. People are killing themselves at a rapid pace because substance users do not realize what their substances are laced with.
Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid said to be 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine, is making its way into the Canadian drug supply. It only takes a few grains of fentanyl to kill a person and this drug is responsible for 73% of overdose related deaths in this nation.
Years ago when doctors began to prescribe opioids it was for pain management for their patients, now even prescription opioids are contributing to the increase in death we are seeing in our country. The government is at a standstill seemingly having their hands tied when it comes to this crisis. Many people believe these deaths should be considered a national crisis and a state of emergency should be called. If that were to happen emergency funds would be realized for things like safe injection sites and treatment programming.
Safe injection sites have been the cause of controversy for years. Though we have a few in Toronto it’s not nearly enough to cater to the substance user population. The idea behind these injection sites is for users to have a safe place to use their drug of choice. The problem is that the government is only willing to fund a few of these supervised consumption sites leaving it up to the provinces and territories to find private funding and locations within their cities for the sites.
Some of the other initiatives that the government is funding is the creation and access of Naloxone kits. Naloxone can treat opioid overdose if given right away and it works by binding the opioid receptors and blocking the effect of the opioid drug. Currently, you can find Naloxone kits for free at mental health and addiction services across the city and at your local Shopper’s Drug Mart.
One of the biggest game changers the government implemented in 2017 was the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act which states if you are involved in an overdoes either yourself or you witness one, police will not charge you with possession of small amounts of drugs if you call 911. This Act is to protect those who try to save a life.
There has been some discussion by members of the government to decriminalize all drugs but would that work?
Evidence from Portugal shows it could. In 2001 Portugal legalized all drugs specifically small possessions. During this period the country was going through a national opioid crisis similar to the one in Canada and the US. They decided to get rid of sanctions, jail time and criminal records related to drug use and instead made substance use a health issue instead of a criminal one. They created a dissuasion committee where people could get resources for harm reduction and treatment if they are found using substances.
The reality is that this problem is not going away. It is projected the number of deaths in 2019 will surpass any other year in Canada. The bottom line is that for a very long time substance users have been forgotten and neglected. They are ignored and considered someone else’s problem. But it’s not someone else’s problem, it is all our problems when people are dying by the thousands because they are poisoning themselves. We need to work together as a nation and in our various communities to come up with solutions to this growing crisis. Perhaps decriminalization is the way to go but at least we need more safe consumption sites to prevent potential overdoses.
There needs to be a call to action to help these forgotten people and support the families and communities that are suffering as a result of this crisis.