The Opioid Crisis: It’s time to rethink our national strategy

Within the last several years, many cities and towns across the country have found themselves plagued by what we have come to call the ‘opioid crisis’. Most evidently, this crisis is typified by the surge in fentanyl-related overdoses.

The stats are simply shattering. According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), 16 Canadians were admitted to hospital for opioid toxicity per day within the last year. In just one weekend in the summer of 2016, fentanyl claimed the lives of 36 people in Surrey, British Columbia – the province which has been hit the hardest by the opioid epidemic. According to the BC Coroners Service, fentanyl took the lives of 368 British Columbians between January and April of this year. In 2016 alone, more than 2800 Canadians lost their lives to opioid-related overdoses, and the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) estimates that there will at least be 3000 more opioid-related fatalities by the end of 2017.

Despite the Prime Minister calling the opioid scourge a ‘national health crisis’, many are criticizing the federal government for not doing enough to address the situation. The government’s most vocal critics are found amongst the ranks of Canada’s New Democrats who are urging the federal Liberals to declare the opioid crisis a national public health emergency under the Emergencies Act, authorizing the government to take “special temporary measures to ensure safety and security during national emergencies and to amend other Acts in consequence thereof.” Don Davies, the NDP health critic, believes that enacting the Emergencies Act would allow the federal government to more easily and more swiftly fund measures to combat the opioid crisis.

Although stats on opioid-related fatalities are readily available for Canada’s western provinces, no official figures have come out of Ontario within the last two years, making it difficult to assess the full impact of the opioid crisis in the province. This being said, we must not forget that our neighbourhoods could be the next victims of this crisis. It is equally important to realize the need for a reorientation of our national strategy to tackle drug addiction.