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Health

Almost half of EI sickness-benefit recipients off work longer than help lasts

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  • OTTAWA — An internal government survey of people who used federal sickness benefits has found that nearly half were unable to work for longer than the 15 weeks the benefits last.

    The newly released documents detailing the results from a survey of people who did — and did not — claim Employment Insurance sickness benefits showed that of those who did receive payments, 48.6 per cent said they were unable to work for 15 weeks or more.

    Officials reviewing the figures note in a presentation from October that the figure could include people who never returned to work.

    Benefits recipients most often returned to work between 15 and 30 weeks, while 15 per cent of claimants didn’t return to work for more than a year, says the presentation obtained by The Canadian Press under the access-to-information law.

    The survey was among the first pieces of research in a sweeping review of the sickness benefit, which hasn’t been updated since it was introduced in 1971.

    Advocates say the figures support a years-long push, recently renewed in the House of Commons, to expand the program and provide more weeks of payments.

    Late last week, Liberal MP Mark Eyking kicked off the latest iteration when debate started on his motion to have a committee of MPs study extending the benefits beyond 15 weeks.

    During debate in the House of Commons on Thursday, Eyking argued increasing the number of weeks didn’t mean Canadians would use all those weeks. It was simply an option, he said.

    The motion appears to have cross-party support, but New Democrats, who have been pushing the Liberals on the issue, chided the government for its inaction so far.

    Sickness benefits is the only special benefit under employment insurance that the Liberals haven’t changed since coming to office in 2015, despite having supported previous proposals to extend benefits.

    Marie-Helene Dube, who has pushed for the change for a decade, said sickness benefits need to match today’s reality where people with cancer, for instance, need more than 15 weeks before being well enough to head back to work.

    “This would allow thousands of Canadians to heal properly and return as active citizens in society,” said Dube, a cancer survivor who started the campaign “15semaines” — French for 15 weeks.

    “Keeping this inadequate law in place is costing society dearly.”

    In 2017, nearly four in 10 beneficiaries maxed out their benefits, a rate that has remained relatively stable for the last five years.

    The documents obtained by The Canadian Press note more claimants than non-claimants in the department’s survey said they had “insufficient income to cover living expenses while on sick leave.”

    Respondents in the ESDC survey skewed over age 45, which officials noted could affect findings. Figures on benefit usage have shown the older a claimant, the longer he or she usually requires benefits.

    The October presentation notes most illnesses or injuries were not work-related. Almost four in five respondents cited a physical condition for their inability to work, while just under one in five cited a mental-health condition.

    The presentation says that most illnesses “developed recently.”

    In 2017, the most recent period for which figures are available, $1.6 billion in benefits was paid out to 379,000 claimants, who on average used 10 weeks of benefits.

    In 2012, the parliamentary budget office estimated that allowing people to claim sickness benefits for up to 50 weeks would cost about $900 million a year, and likely would have required an increase in EI premiums to cover the cost.

    The budget watchdog has been looking into the costs of the program, and is set to report on the effects of possible changes soon.

    — Follow @jpress on Twitter.

    Jordan Press, The Canadian Press


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    Alberta

    As Hair Massacure Returns for Another Year, Here’s A Moving Look at How it Began

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  • On February 22, 2019, thousands of heads will be shaved in honour of the journey of sick children losing their hair due to chemotherapy.

    People will gather once again at the Toyota Mayfield Ice Palace at West Edmonton Mall to collectively shave their heads, raising money in support of Albertans facing cancer.

    The Hair Massacure is founded, supported and organized by The MacDonald Family, in honour of their daughter Kali, a childhood cancer survivor.

    The MacDonald family partners once again with the Children’s Wish Foundation of Canada and supports Terry Fox Profyle, a Pediatric cancer research project.

    With the support of their partners, the family plans to scale Hair Massacure to the national level with the support of the Children’s Wish Foundation, continuing to raise funding for pediatric cancer research and for children with life threatening illnesses.

    Children’s Wish Foundation of Canada

    Children’s Wish Foundation of Canada is a 100% Canadian charity that grants the single-most heartfelt wishes of Canadian children diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses. Every wish is as unique as the child making it.  In Alberta and the NWT, we grant a Wish every three days and approve around 180 new Wishes each year. Wish referrals can be made by anyone who has a child in their lives between the ages of 3-17 and meets the medical criteria. Become a supporter of the largest Wish granting organization in Canada today!

    Terry Fox Profyle

    For the first time in Canadian history, more than 30 pediatric cancer research and funding organizations have joined forces through Terry Fox PROFYLE, a pan-Canadian project to give children, adolescents and young adults who are out of conventional treatment options another chance to beat their cancer. Short for PRecision Oncology For Young peopLE, the Terry Fox Research Institute (TFRI) and these research and funding partners are working and fundraising together under a unique partnership that to date is providing a total of $16.4 million to molecularly profile the tumours of these patients, no matter where they live in Canada. For example, if Terry Fox had been diagnosed with cancer today, he would have been eligible for PROFYLE when the tumour returned and spread to his lungs. A $5-million investment by TFRI is the catalyst bringing together top scientists and clinicians, research centres, cancer charities and foundations at children’s hospitals across the country to create new hope for young people who need it the most.

    Video produced by Storyteller Productions .


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    Health

    Sell regulated heroin to drug users to reduce overdose deaths: B.C. group

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  • VANCOUVER — The BC Centre on Substance Use is proposing a policy to sell legally regulated heroin as part of an urgent response to reduce opioid overdose deaths from a toxic drug supply that is profiting organized crime groups.

    It is recommending the use of so-called heroin compassion clubs and buyers clubs, similar to those that emerged in the 1980s and 90s to allow access to medical cannabis in response to the AIDS epidemic.

    “Then as now, compassion clubs functioned to provide a safe place for people to access medical cannabis and connect with a range of health services, while buyers clubs procured life-saving treatment for people living with HIV and AIDS when government inaction limited access to these medicines,” a report from the centre says. 

    It also highlights independent reports that say organized crime groups have used Vancouver-area casinos to launder billions of dollars in cash from their proceeds of crime, including fentanyl trafficking, which Attorney General David Eby has said is troubling and could lead to a public inquiry. 

    Dr. Evan Wood, executive director of the centre, said an innovative approach to the overdose crisis is needed during a public health emergency declared in British Columbia nearly three years ago and to wage “economic war” on organized criminals benefiting from drug prohibition.

    The compassion clubs would involve a co-operative model through which powdered heroin would be restricted to members who have been assessed by a health-care provider as having an opioid addiction, provided education about not using alone and connected to treatment as part of a program involving rigorous evaluation, Wood said.

    “One of the big benefits of this model is that there’s just a massive chasm between where people buy their drugs and public health and treatment services and that’s the gap that so far in the opioid response has been very, very difficult to bridge with people using at home alone and dying of fentanyl overdoses.”

    Mental Health and Addictions Minister Judy Darcy said she has had a briefing on the idea but has not yet read the report, adding she plans to “study it very carefully.”

    “Our focus has been on safe prescription alternatives to the poisoned drug supply so this is a very new concept.”

    The BC Coroners Service has said nearly 3,000 people fatally overdosed in the province in 2017 and 2018 alone, with illicit fentanyl detected in 85 per cent of the deaths last year.

    The heroin compassion-club model would require the approval of Health Canada, which could either provide an exemption to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act for research or public health reasons or through another regulation that has allowed B.C. to import injectable pharmaceutical-grade heroin from Switzerland.

    That heroin has been in use since 2014 for a limited number of drug users being treated at Vancouver’s Crosstown Clinic, the only such facility in North America.

    Wood said the idea for the compassion clubs came from a small group of people who banded together to buy heroin from dealers and test it to determine if it had been contaminated with fentanyl.

    “I’ve seen and talked to these individuals,” he said. “I’ve had a patient who had a transformative experience with using heroin instead of fentanyl and so it’s led us to sit around a room and say, ‘OK, maybe we need to have this conversation on regulating the heroin market.’ “

    Providing users with a regulated and legal supply of heroin would also ensure they get other supports including public health experts, treatment and pharmacy services, Wood said.

    Dean Wilson, a former heroin addict and peer-support worker for the BC Centre on Substance Use, said he started using heroin at age 13.

    “Not a day goes by that I don’t wish I hadn’t touched the stuff,” said Wilson, who’s been on treatment using the opioid methadone for over a decade.

    Wilson, 63, an author of the centre’s report, said he sold drugs and spent time in jail, including for property crimes, to feed his drug habit.

    A gram of heroin on the street costs between $140 to $200 and can last a couple of days, versus about $3.80 that users would pay for powdered heroin imported from Switzerland, he said.

    “That’s the thing people don’t realize, that if you had the same gram of heroin from the street you’re looking at about $6,000 a month. But everybody has to steal or generate almost $50,000 of stolen property to get that $6,000.”

    Erica Thomson, a peer support worker for Fraser Health who also contributed to the report, said she began using heroin at age 15 while growing up as a national competitive swimmer.

    She went through several treatment programs but repeatedly relapsed before starting her recovery eight years ago.

    “I think this is another way that we’re starting to stay alive because we’re not getting anything practical that reflects our realities available to us,” she said.

    Thomson said drug users don’t want to navigate organized crime groups to find a safe supply of heroin that compassion clubs would provide.

    “You can upscale addiction treatment all you want but addiction treatment isn’t the answer to a poisoned, unregulated, illicit drug market. Right now it’s really about stopping the bleed.”

    — Follow @CamilleBains1 on Twitter.

     

    Camille Bains, The Canadian Press


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    february, 2019

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