Jane Philpott promises use of ‘all tools’ in opioid crisis

published on November 18, 2016 by Karen Howlett in The Globe and Mail

Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott is pledging to use every tool at the disposal of the federal government to address Canada’s epidemic of opioid abuse.

“This is a national public health crisis,” Dr. Philpott told reporters on Friday. “It is an emergency. It’s absolutely essential that we put all tools on the table to address it.”

Dr. Philpott spoke to reporters during a national conference on opioids. The toll opioid addiction and abuse is taking on families, the health-care system and communities came into sharp relief during the session.

“It’s a national crisis,” said Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins, who is co-hosting the two-day conference with Dr. Philpott. “During the course of this conference today, probably six or seven Canadians will die. And that will happen tomorrow and the day after tomorrow.”

The conference is the first time the federal government has brought together policy makers and medical experts to come up with strategies to address the crisis. An investigation by The Globe and Mail found that Ottawa and the provinces have failed to take adequate steps to address the roots of the problem: the over-prescribing of prescription painkillers.

The practice dates back two decades, to when doctors began prescribing opioids to relieve moderate to severe pain as pharmaceutical companies promoted their benefits. In 2015, doctors wrote one prescription for every two Canadians, according to figures compiled for The Globe by IMS Brogan, which tracks pharmaceutical sales. The death toll has escalated since last year, with the advent of a thriving black market for bootleg fentanyl, a drug 100 times more powerful than morphine.

David Juurlink, head of clinical pharmacology and toxicology at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, asked during his keynote address why the Public Health Agency of Canada has not been “all over” the crisis.

The agency was created after the SARS crisis in 2003, when 44 people died in an outbreak of the disease across Canada. “That many people die every week from opioid overdoses,” Dr. Juurlink said.

View the full article