As the opioid epidemic continues to march across the country, destroying an ever increasing number of lives, the federal health minister says people have fallen into the habit of passing judgment on those who are addicted to the drug.
Ginette Petitpas Taylor, who spent 25 years working with the RCMP in Codiac, N.B. as a social worker, says she saw people struggle with the stigma of addiction all too often.
“It’s easy to judge, it really is, until you’re someone personally affected by this situation. Many times we just don’t realize these people have a story. And they’re our loved ones and they have families. So it’s a struggle for a lot of people,” Pettipas Taylor told CBC News.
The Public Health Agency of Canada said there were 2,816 “apparent opioid related deaths” in Canada in 2016. That’s an average of eight people a day.
A breakdown of those numbers shows a problem with illicit fentanyl in the West, but in Eastern Canada, the crisis is fuelled by prescription opioids.
Petitpas Taylor said the other issue is that not everyone understands the scope of the problem.
“I think, [in] my personal view, it depends on where you live. I know that coming from the Maritimes, probably, the reality really hasn’t hit there yet,” Petitpas Taylor said.
One of the first things Petitpas Taylor did after being sworn in was to visit a supervised drug injection site in B.C.
“When I was out in Kelowna, B.C., it was something they talk about regularly. In my riding [Moncton–Riverview–Dieppe in New Brunswick], do I think it’s something that comes up regularly? Probably not,” she added.
Supervised consumption sites
The day the Public Health Agency of Canada released its latest fatality statistics, the minister stopped by the Shepherds of Good Hope in Ottawa, a homeless shelter with a program designed to help people with addictions.
The person who runs the shelter, Deirdre Freitheit, told the minister what the facility needs most is for the federal government to approve their application for a supervised drug injection site — it’s currently being reviewed by Health Canada.
“The federal government could help enormously by approving Ottawa Inner City Health’s exemption to provide safe consumption services in the locations where they provide services, the first priority of which is Shepherds of Good Hope. Given the current overdose crisis, services in Ottawa are required immediately,” Freitheit wrote to CBC.
Petitpas Taylor said these sites are not the only option available to communities struggling with the crisis; another is streamlining the process for prescribing methadone.
Right now, doctors who want to prescribe methadone as treatment need a special licence from Health Canada.
“If doctors, general practitioners, would want to use that as well, there’s certain processes we could streamline to make it easier,” Petitpas Taylor said.
Another piece of the puzzle, according the health minister, is making sure people with addictions and mental health issues have access to treatment programs. Part of the new health care funding from Ottawa is earmarked for this, and both the federal and provincial governments have been considering how that money should be spent.
Petitpas Taylor said the discussion stage is coming to an end and “the money will be rolling out to the provinces very soon.”