Health minister says overdose issue requires treatment without judgment - InfoNews

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Health minister says overdose issue requires treatment without judgment

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June 13, 2017 - 6:00 AM

VANCOUVER - Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott says more people are expected to die of illicit opioid overdoses in Canada this year compared with nearly 2,500 fatalities recorded in 2016.

"It is going to get worse before it gets better," Philpott told the National Health Leadership Conference on Monday, calling British Columbia "ground zero" because the crisis claimed 935 lives in the province last year.

The complex problem of substance use is rooted in social issues such as poverty, homelessness and unresolved trauma so combating the epidemic will require a patient-centred approach, Philpott said.

The Public Health Agency of Canada released figures last week saying at least 2,458 people died of opioid-related overdoses in 2016, though Philpott said the information is incomplete.

She told health-care managers that patients need to be treated without judgment and discrimination and their health records must follow them wherever they get care, regardless of whether they have a fixed address.

That would be possible through technological innovation, the minister said.

Philpott said the full power of geocoding technology must also be harnessed to determine where overdoses happen so the information can be used for prevention, treatment and harm reduction.

The opioid fentanyl has been increasingly used over the last five years to contaminate illicit drugs, resulting in fatal overdoses, Philpott noted.

"The challenge, as you know, has been exacerbated by over-prescribing, which has been, we must admit, driven in part by deceptive marketing practices," she said of drug companies that falsely claimed some painkillers were not addictive.

Philpott said it was shocking that the federal government could not release national numbers on fatal overdoses until last week.

The minister has expressed frustration with provinces for not providing overdose-death data so the federal government could get a national picture of the opioid crisis.

"Death records are still on paper files so there are technological challenges in terms of gathering the data," she said, adding figures will be released quarterly.

The federal government has approved 12 supervised consumption sites in Canada for users to inject their own drugs under medical supervision. They're located in Vancouver, Surrey, B.C., Montreal and Toronto.

Health Canada is considering a dozen more applications — four in British Columbia, four in Edmonton, one in Calgary and three in Ottawa.

"The federal government cannot solve this alone," Philpott said. "This is a whole-of-society response."

She said provincial governments must ensure they expand access to medication-assisted addiction treatment and mental-health issues.

"It includes every Canadian looking at this problem for the health problem that it is (and) addressing stigma and discrimination that is associated with substance dependence."

B.C. New Democrat Leader John Horgan met Monday with families affected by the opioid epidemic in the province and reaffirmed his commitment to a stand-alone mental health and addictions ministry.

"Fentanyl has already taken too many lives and destroyed too many families," said Horgan, who forged an agreement with the Green Party to lead the government following last month's election should the minority Liberals fall in an expected confidence vote.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2017
The Canadian Press

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