Trump declares opioid crisis a national health emergency, Canada falls behind

A mural painted by street artist Smokey D in Vancouver points out the severity of the crisis / Canadian Press


You know you’re behind on something when Donald Trump is ahead of you. The US president has declared the opioid crisis, which has been raging across the western world, a national public health emergency. Canada’s own Liberal government is reluctant to do so, despite urging from the NDP.

“I have been calling for the Liberal government to declare a national public health emergency under the Emergencies Act for a better part of a year, and they have refused to do that,” Don Davies, an NDP MP representing the Vancouver Kingsway riding in British Columbia told reporters.

“How is it that this government has fallen behind the trump administration in taking action to save lives?” Davies asked the house of commons. As much as it pains me to say so, I agree with Davies. How did it get to the point where Canada, a country known for social welfare programs and for supporting its citizens, has fallen behind the US?

“It’s absolutely time for Canada to declare the #opioidepidemic a national public health emergency #lifewontwait #ndp,” Davies posted on his twitter account on October 27. Liberal MPs in the house of commons disagree, saying that the government is using fact-based research to handle the problem. Despite their efforts, there were nearly 2500 opioid related deaths in 2016, in some provinces more than half of those were related to fentanyl. The problem is, these are really the only numbers we have. Provinces are only just started to keep track of the data as the situation spirals out of control. British Columbia declared an emergency in May of 2016 after an increase in the number of illicit drug deaths per month, from 40 to 64, with nearly 50 per cent of those deaths involving fentanyl. If these stats are applicable to all of Canada, we have a real problem.

The real question is why are the feds so reluctant to declare an emergency, and what would change if they did?

The Emergencies act, which replaced the controversial War Measures act in 1988, is intended to “ authorize the taking of special temporary measures to ensure safety and security during national emergencies”

Basically, it allows the speedy allocation of funds and other resources where they’re needed. Without being forced to do costly surveys and research, money can be sent to boots-on-the-ground organizations who have experience with the crisis as it really is, rather that how it looks on paper.

I’m not saying that studies and research are bad. We need them. Real information needs to be gathered in an organized manner and interpreted in order to come up with long term solutions. The problem is the waiting. Every day nearly seven people in Canada are dying of an opioid overdose. Do we really have the time to wait two years to finish a research study? 5,000 more people (and growing) will be dead by then. It’s time for Canada to step up and get the job done.

Why won’t the federal government declare an emergency? It’s hard to tell. Maybe the situtation is as overwhelming for them as it is for the rest of the country. Maybe they think they’ve got the situation covered. They don’t. It’s time to save lives. Follow the lead of the US and declare a national emergency so funding can get to the people who need it right now. Seven of them can’t wait until tomorrow.



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