Canada is currently in the midst of an opioid overdose crisis. The Public Health Agency of Canada revealed that in 2017, almost 3,000 people lost their lives in opioid-related deaths. That is averaging to about eight deaths a day. The opioid crisis has been linked to the rise of overdoses in both prescription opioids and fentanyl. 72% of these deaths are due to fentanyl, a drug that is described to be even stronger than morphine.
Due to the crisis, the Minister of Health has made addressing this issue a top priority and with the help of the government. Since the issue was brought to concern in 2016, several policy changes have been implemented as a response.
Health Canada has responded by initiating new actions across the Health Portfolio under the Joint Statement of Action to Address the Opioid Crisis. To address the opioid crisis, the Health Portfolio aims to reform the approach to drug policy making it more collaborative, compassionate, comprehensive, and evidence-based.
Based on the values of the Health Portfolio, the Minister of Health has created a new Canadian drugs and substances strategy. This strategy focuses on a new approach to drug policy that focuses on a strong foundation in the evidence, the restoration of harm reduction, prevention, treatment, and enforcement.
By responding to the crisis through prevention, treatment, harm reduction, and enforcement, the government of Canada is devoted to targeting this public health emergency. The following are a few of the actions that followed the change of drug policy.
Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act
Officially a law on May 4, 2017, the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act offers some legal protection for those who call for help in the case of an emergency overdose. Individuals are protected from charges related to possession of controlled substance as well as breaching conditions set by parole, probation, etc. The act was put in place in the hopes that it will reduce the fear of police arriving at an overdoses scene and help to influence others to step up and save a life.
As there is no simple solution to ending substance abuse with opioids, supervised consumptions sites (SCS), play a role in harm reduction proposal of the Canadian drugs and substance strategy.
SCS offers a safe and clean place to consume illegal substances, access to emergency medical care, testing for infectious diseases, access to sterile drug equipment and proper disposal. The primary goals of SCS are to help prevent overdose death, reduce the transmissions of diseases, and help to make a smoother transition to drug treatment services
Making Naloxone Freely Available
Naloxone is a fast acting drug that can reverse an opioid overdose. This allows time to get overdose victims time to get to the hospital before it is too late. Across the provinces and territories of Canada, people can receive Naloxone at pharmacies without the need of any prescription. Some pharmacies are even offering free Naloxone kits.
Although Canada’s opioid crisis is far from being over, the government has taken initiatives in helping to decrease the death toll. This crisis is an incredibly complex health and social issue that will require time to see change.