Our drug overdose epidemic
Back in 2003, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) arrived in Toronto from China. Roughly 400 people got it, 43 died, Ontario declared a public health emergency and the rest of the country lived in fear waiting for it to spread.
As this is written, hundreds of people are overdosing on illegal drugs across Canada. It is an epidemic more widespread and damaging than SARS, yet there is no concerted national effort to stop it.
No seems to know exactly how many people are dying, but British Columbia reports 622 overdose deaths between Jan. 1 and Oct. 31 this year.
Ontario says it had 2,471 opioid overdoses between 2011 and 2014. It doesn’t say how many involved deaths, or why in this computer age of Smart Meters that pick the pockets of electricity users, it can’t provide up-to-date, current statistics.
At any rate, we don’t need exact figures to know that every day people in every part of Canada are dying of illegal drug overdoses. It is a national health emergency, but no emergency is being declared.
Deaths from illegal drug overdoses are soaring because of synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. Fentanyl is a pain killer and anaesthetic used in medical situations and is much more powerful than morphine.
Fentanyl products manufactured by illegal labs in China, and here in Canada, have no dosage controls. Criminals mix it haphazardly with other drugs to give bigger, better highs. It is said that in some cases a fentanyl amount the size of two grains of salt can kill a healthy adult.
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention reports that every day in the U.S. 78 people die from an opioid overdose. Between the years 2000 and 2014 almost half a million Americans died from drug overdoses.
The epicentre of the Canadian opioid epidemic is Vancouver, where emergency medical teams, social outreach workers and police are unable to keep up with the flow of opioids and the numbers of people overdosing. But the tragic effects are being seen across Canada.
Last week four young children in Calgary woke up to find both their mom and dad dead from drug overdoses. The parents were drug users and the suspicion is they took drugs laced with a fatal amount of fentanyl.
Calgary police have said the force, and Calgary citizens, are fed up with the car thefts, home break-ins and other crimes tied to the drug epidemic.
Alberta authorities believe the problems will get worse, with the introduction of carfentanil into the illicit drug market. Carfentanil, used to sedate large animals such as elephants, is said to be 100 times more potent than fentanyl. Alberta has confirmed 15 carfentanil deaths, 14 this fall.
B.C. declared a public health emergency earlier this year in response to the drug epidemic. It had seen drug overdose deaths rise from 364 in 2014 to 475 in 2015, a 30 per cent increase, then 201 deaths in the first three months of 2016. The numbers continue to rise and probably are at 700 or more by now.
Last week the province began opening emergency overdose prevention sites. The sites likely are not legal under federal laws governing supervised injection sites. At the emergency overdose sites, addicts will shoot up on their own while trained workers will be on hand to administer advice and overdose antidotes.
The sites are an effort to reduce the increasing number of calls handled by emergency responders.
“We are doing this because we have to,” B.C. health minister Terry Lake said. “It is a bit like putting out forest fires – you just have to do it and piece together the costing details later.”
Good on him for not fiddling while the bodies pile up in the streets.
There have been high-level calls for the federal government to declare the drug epidemic a national public health emergency. The House of Commons health committee has recommended an emergency declaration.
However, federal health minister Jane Philpott said the situation cannot be solved overnight and needs more study.
More information on the fentanyl epidemic can be found in an interesting CBC report at: http://www.cbc.ca/firsthand/episodes/unstoppable-the-fentanyl-epidemic.