What Needs to Change to Solve the Opioid Crisis

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Oxycontin Ontario Government Narcotics Abuse
Senator Vern White
Senator Vern White

OTTAWA – We are presently in the grip of an opioid crisis with the wave moving from west to east across Canada. British Columbia has been at the centre of the crisis for a number of years, with thousands of deaths being attributed to accidental overdoses, 914 in 2016 alone. This has moved to Ontario, who is now facing the same crisis with an average of two people dying every day.

To say the reaction of government has been slow, would be an understatement. We find ourselves chasing the problem in the same way an addict chases another high, haphazardly and without a plan. We are still with little movement on increased access to treatment and without a strategic provincial and/or national drug strategy that combats the problems we are facing today, our ability to respond has proven mostly to be embarrassing. Most jurisdictions are still looking at five or six month wait lists for addicts to attain residential treatment and while I agree that treatment may not be the answer for the unwilling, for the willing there needs to be increased opportunities for help, and it is either not coming, or coming at a glacial pace.

Recently we saw the passing of C-37 in the House of Commons and in the Senate, with amendments. This legislation will do a number of things to modernize the laws in an attempt to reduce the capability of criminal organizations and individuals from providing the black market with illegal and illicit product. The bill aims to; strengthen law enforcement’s ability to attack the supply chain by allowing authorities to engage deliveries and remove them from illegal drug manufacturers; give enhanced authority to the Minister to attack the illegal and illicit trade more quickly thereby acting and reacting in a more efficient manner and lastly remove some of the identified barriers to allow local authorities to quickly apply for and receive authority to operate a Supervised Consumption Site.

The reality is that today organized crime groups are involved in the manufacture of illegal and extremely dangerous opioids. We have seen this in the deaths across Canada as they infuse fentanyl into their product, selling it cheaply and without any oversight to protect the user. In fact the vast majority of overdose deaths in Canada from opioids are illegally manufactured and sold. This has resulted in a devastating effect on our communities bringing death and despair as they consume the basement grade opioid.  The consumption site provides support to the addict, but to be blunt one task is to try and save the life of an addict by administering Naloxone to counter the poison they consume.

An addict buys illegal and illicit substances, typically not a pharmacological substance…. but rather a basement made poison… developed by a crime group for the sole purpose of making money off addicts…. putting the addict into danger, well beyond that of their addiction.

The amendment made to C37 provides a clear change to the process by which supervised consumption sites operate. Stating clearly that “a person responsible for the direct supervision of such a site shall offer a person using the site, alternative pharmaceutical therapy before that person consumes a controlled substance obtained in a manner not authorized under the act”.

The addict would enter the clinic, with or without an illegal substance, be offered a pharmaceutical drug by a medical practitioner, not a drug dealer. That addict will not have to commit a crime, or multiple crimes to obtain such a substance

That addict will not have to worry about the potential of an overdose death as a result of using whatever poison he purchased from a dealer.

The public will not have to worry about being the victim of a crime…. Committed as a result of an addict trying to raise money for their dealer.

Used in Switzerland, it has seen a dramatic reduction of illegal drugs, reduced greatly the crime associated to manufacturing of illegal drugs, and has all but removed the criminal activity many addicts are or were involved in.

The bill as now amended will provide addicts with alternatives to what addicts previously saw in their consumption sites and hopefully will assist society seeing that when dealing with addictions we should try to place the options clearly between an addict and medical practitioner, not an addict – his dealer – his victims of crime – organized crime and a medical practitioner.

Senator Vern White


Vernon “Vern” White is a Canadian senator, and former chief of the Ottawa Police Service.
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