Speaking to a crowd of health care leaders in Vancouver, federal Health Minister Jane Philpott said Ottawa is doing everything it can to address the opioid overdose crisis but no single action or policy is going to solve it.
“It is going to get worse before it gets better,” said Philpott.
“And if that hasn’t been impressed upon you — no matter where you’re from in this country — we need to be paying attention. We need to work together.”
Philpott was in Vancouver speaking at the National Health Leadership Conference, where she took place in roundtable discussion on the crisis.
The federal health minister said her government is using every available tool at its disposal to stem the crisis and spoke about its recent approval of new supervised consumption sites, including three in the Lower Mainland,emergency funding to B.C. and Alberta and improved access to prescription heroin in Canada.
Last week, the federal government released national numbers on opioid-related overdose deaths for the first time ever, offering a snapshot of the crisis countrywide. The numbers showed there were 2,458 apparent opioid-related deaths across Canada.
However, that number does not include Quebec, and some data from certain provinces is outdated or incomplete.
Earlier this month, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson called the opioid crisis a “bloodbath in all corners of Vancouver” in response to the 170 overdose deaths reported so far in 2017 in the City of Vancouver alone.
In spite of escalating numbers, Philpott said her government doesn’t have plans to declare a public health emergency.
“If declaring a national emergency were to give me tools that I don’t already have within my authority, I would certainly do that. This act is not the mechanism to do that,” said Philpott.
Philpott emphasized the need for the federal government to work with the provinces.
“The federal government cannot solve this alone. This is a whole of society response,” said Philpott
“It includes provincial governments making sure they get treatment using some of the money that we’ve given to them for mental health care and expanding access to a whole range of medication-assisted treatment,” said Philpott.
Premier Christy Clark unveiled her new cabinet on Monday, naming Mary Polak as the new minister of health, taking over from Terry Lake who did not seek re-election.
However, the new ministers may only be in their roles for a few weeks.
The B.C. Legislature is being recalled on June 22 and the NDP-Green alliance has signaled its intention to vote down the throne speech and try and form government.