Opioid summit wraps with health ministers addressing growing crisis

British Columbia’s health minister is leaving Ottawa after a two-day summit on opioid addiction, feeling frustrated about what he’s calling a lack of urgency.

Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott and Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins, both doctors themselves, convened the meeting in Ottawa and will speak at a news conference scheduled for 11:30 a.m. ET.

B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake said the province — which has seen more than 600 opioid overdose deaths alone this year  — should act as a warning sign.

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British Columbia Health Minister Terry Lake told a private radio station that there would have been “much greater federal action” if the crisis had hit Ontario with the same force as it hit his province. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

He said Ottawa is aware of the issue, but hasn’t shown that it’s willing to back up commitments with money.

Both Lake and his premier Christy Clark have put pressure on the the federal government to pick up the phone and call China to help stop illegal fentanyl hitting B.C.’s shores.

In April the province declared a public health emergency to deal with the opioid crisis.

Calls for a public health emergency

Some health experts have urged Philpott to go a a step further and declare a national public health emergency over the misuse and abuse of opioids and the rising number of overdose deaths. The minister said she’s open to that, if it gives authorities a stronger ability to act on the problem.

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Federal Minister of Health Jane Philpott, left, and Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins discussed Canada’s growing opioid epidemic on amid calls for Health Canada to declare a public health emergency. (Christopher Katsarov/Canadian Press)

Health-care providers have been sounding the alarm on pervasive opioid use and the frightening rates of overdose for some time.

First, they warned about the painkiller oxycontin, then the more powerful fentanyl, and now authorities are alarmed to be finding even more potent products thrown into the addictive and dangerous mix.

Philpott is under pressure to move on a national strategy that introduces stiffer prescription practices, more doctor awareness, more safe injection sites, better addiction treatment and a critical look at China and its export of fentanyl.

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Opioids include prescription painkillers such as oxycodone, fentanyl and morphine, as well as illegal street drugs like heroin. (Toby Talbot/Associated Press)

She has said that early in the new year, new guidelines will be introduced to ensure doctors know about dose safety and addiction risk factors. The guidelines will include non-prescription approaches to pain management.

Canada has the world’s second-highest per capita consumption of prescription opioids, said Philpott, noting that, in some parts of the country, drug overdoses are killing more people than motor vehicle accidents.

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