Mayors across Canada come together to get a handle on the growing Opioid crisis

Graphic by Alan Li

On May 25, a task force consisting of mayors from 13 Canadian cities released a set of recommendations to the federal government to better handle the opioid crisis.

The task force was organized by the Big City Mayors’ Caucus, a group within the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and was formed in February 2017.

Convening on the task force is Kitchener mayor Berry Vrbanovic.

The recommendations put forward by the task force can be separated into four categories.

There are those aimed at harm reduction, including measures to reduce overdoses and remove barriers to proper overdose response. There are those aimed at treatment, including measures like expanding access to opioid substitution therapy. There are those aimed at prevention, including measures like improving public education on the risks of drug use. Lastly, there are those aimed at enforcement, including measures to improve law enforcement and evidence protocols.

“We know that we’ll need all four of those pillars to be successful. Any solution that isn’t comprehensive like that is destined to fail,” said Michael Parkinson, coordinator for community engagement with the Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council.

“[The recommendations are] a fantastic start to addressing what is widely known to be the most pressing public health crisis in Canada right now and the worst drug safety crisis in Canadian history.”

Among the recommendations is a call to improve the collection and dissemination of data relevant to the opioid crisis, which Parkinson pointed out has not been done very efficiently. To illustrate this, he used the example of coroner data.

“Coroner data tells you how many people passed away [due] to drug-related overdose and the coroner data will tell you what kind of drugs were involved in those overdoses,” Parkinson said.

But according to Parkinson, everywhere in Canada except for British Columbia experiences a lag in the release of coroner data that can stretch to one or two years.

“That lag time is a problem because the drug market and the typology of drug-related overdoses are changing,” he said.

One particular change in the drug market has been the emergence of fentanyl and fentanyl analogues, the latter known colloquially as ‘bootleg’ fentanyls.

“These bootleg fentanyls [are] highly toxic and they’re showing up in substances often without the consumer’s knowledge and in many parts of Canada, without street-level dealers’ knowledge,” Parkinson said.

“And they’re showing up in a range of substances like cocaine, crystal methamphetamine, heroin and being pressed into counterfeit pills and made to resemble Percocet or Xanax.”

Another recommendation made by the task force was to lay out specific goals, outcomes and timelines to handle the crisis.

“What we haven’t seen anywhere in Canada, at any level of government, is a goal that says ‘we will reduce overdoses by 15 per cent by the year 2018 and we’re going to throw x millions of dollars at the issue to undertake the following initiatives,’” Parkinson said.

“It simply doesn’t exist anywhere in Canada. At the federal level, provincial level, territorial level or the municipal level.”

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