Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Why Canada Should Declare a National Opioid Emergency Too

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Why Canada Should Declare a National Opioid Emergency Too

Article excerpt

Why Canada should declare a national opioid emergency too

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This article was originally published on The Conversation, an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts. Disclosure information is available on the original site.

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Author: Pauline Voon, Research Associate at the BC Centre on Substance Use and Doctoral Candidate in Population and Public Health, University of British Columbia

In the United States, President Donald Trump has formally declared the opioid overdose crisis to be a national public health emergency. The numbers he cited speak for themselves: More than 64,000 Americans died from opioid overdose last year, which translates to more than 175 per day, or almost seven every hour.

The situation in Canada is just as devastating, with opioid overdoses estimated to cause at least 16 hospitalizations and eight deaths each day.

This did not happen overnight. The number of opioid overdose deaths has risen at an alarming rate since the early 2000s. Now, more than a decade later, communities, health professionals and some politicians such as NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, are still pushing for a national health emergency to be declared here in Canada as well.

By declaring a national public welfare emergency, the federal government could both acknowledge the scale of the opioid overdose crisis and unlock funds critical to a successful response.

Such a move would not be without precedent.

From SARS and H1N1 to opioid deaths

We should have learned by now, from past health crises that have affected our entire nation.

When 44 deaths were caused by SARS in Canada in 2003, the National Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health urged the Government of Canada to "consider incorporating in legislation a mechanism for dealing with health emergencies" -- one that "would be activated in lockstep with provincial emergency acts in the event of a pan-Canadian health emergency."

In 2009, when 428 deaths were caused by the H1N1 flu virus in Canada, an Emergency Operations Centre was mobilized 24 hours a day, seven days a week for several weeks. This provided more than 6,000 person-days of manpower to help coordinate emergency responses across the country.

In comparison, only 113 person-days of assistance for the opioid crisis have been reported by the Public Health Agency of Canada -- to help write reports in two jurisdictions last year -- despite more than 2,800 deaths from opioid overdoses in 2016 alone.

The federal government has already implemented important measures, such as improving access to life-saving treatments and approving supervised injection sites across the country.

However, there is still much more that can be done.

Funding pain management research

For instance, Statistics Canada is mandated to produce statistics on the health of Canadians. …

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