Canada’s top doctor says illicit drugs in Canada have become so toxic, providing a safe supply of prescription opioids for addicts is one way Canada is “going all out” to keep people from dying.
In a year-end interview with PKBNEWS, Dr. Theresa Tam said she believes some Canadians may not fully understand the benefits of harm reduction measures like safe supply as a tool to address the opioid crisis in Canada.
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But such measures are part of a series of responses that are sometimes necessary, given the large and deadly toll of fentanyl-tainted illicit drugs across the country, Tam said.
“The crisis in opioid and other substance use is a major public health issue right now,” she said.
“We don’t know the exact reason, but a supply of increasingly toxic illegal drugs, with fentanyl contaminating 75-80% of the supply, is a key factor. And so, by providing a prescription pharmaceutical opioid drug, (it’s) another way for people to go all out to try and support those in need.
A total of 32,632 Canadians died from opioids between 2016 and June of this year, according to the latest federal data.
It shows that in the first six months of 2022, there were 3,556 apparent deaths related to opioid toxicity, a grim figure that was already close to the total number of Canadians – 3,747 – who lost their lives in cause of opiates in 2020.
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That translates to about 20 opioid-related deaths per day this year and marks a significant increase from the years before the pandemic, when high-potency levels of fentanyl became more prevalent in the street drug supply, according to federal data. .
For example, in 2016, about eight people died per day from opioid overdoses, and in 2018 that number rose to 12 deaths per day.
Of the 20 daily opioid-related deaths from January to June this year, 76% involved fentanyl and 79% involved opioids that were only non-pharmaceutical, meaning these deaths were not due to diverted drugs legal supply.
A renewed debate about harm reduction measures to address the opioid crisis has been sparked in recent weeks following comments from Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, who criticized safe supply as a measure he says keeps people addicted to drugs.
The federal government is funding 17 safe supply pilot projects in four provinces, where patients are given prescriptions for pharmaceutical-grade opioids as an alternative to illicit drugs containing fentanyl that could kill them.
“What I don’t support is just perpetuating their addiction indefinitely, as the current approach does,” Poilievre said in an interview with Alex Pierson on AM640, a radio station owned by Corus Entertainment, the company mother of PKBNEWS earlier this week.
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“We have these so-called safe supply programs, but the problem with how they work is that they don’t guide people to an eventual drug-free life. They maintain them in the current state of dependence.
Instead, he says federal investments should go toward recovery and treatment programs.
In a video he posted to Twitter in November, Poilievre also suggested an increase in violent crime in Canada was linked to the opioid crisis and spoke of the need for “tougher laws for repeat offenders.” violent, gangsters and organized criminals who prey on these drug addicts.
Tam emphasized that the opioid crisis “is a public health issue, not a criminal issue.”
Taking a public health approach to this crisis requires a whole range of measures, she said, which includes treatment and recovery programs, but can also sometimes require harm reduction responses.
“Prevention is important, as is treatment — absolutely important. And supporting people in recovery is important,” she said.
“But the concept of harm reduction is also important in that you have to meet people where they are. Some people just aren’t ready.
Providing a safer supply of opiates to people who are not yet able or willing to do the hard work that recovery from addiction entails aims to “prevent deaths so that people can be alive, in fact, for then take treatment action when they are ready to do so,” Tam said.
While some people may not fully understand harm reduction programs, those operating in Canada are measured and evaluated for their effectiveness, Tam added, and some preliminary data released earlier this year highlighted some successes. .
She pointed to an independent study published in September in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) that looked at people who used a safer supply program in London, Ont., for three years.
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He found that participation in the program significantly reduced emergency department visits and hospitalizations for those at high risk of overdose.
It also found no increased risk of infections or overdoses and a drop in health care costs unrelated to primary care or outpatient medication after one year.
Additionally, there were no opioid-related deaths among those who were part of this program.
“In fact, the people who joined the program really had much higher survival than the others. And then there were holistic programs in terms of treatment services, social services and the like, so that connects individuals to care,” Tam said.
“Providing the data and the evidence is really important and we shouldn’t launch these programs without monitoring them, so I’m very happy that these studies are now being published and I think Canada is taking a global leadership role in this regard. . ”