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Drug users, advocates fear federal election may sideline safer opioids policy



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  • VANCOUVER — The co-founder of a national group of parents whose children have died of overdoses fears the looming federal election will derail any policy changes that could make a safer supply of opioids a priority, even as the country’s chief public health officer has promised to review such a plan.

    Leslie McBain of Moms Stop the Harm said the overemphasis on addiction treatment has not worked because drug users are continuing to use the black market to access fentanyl-laced substances that have killed thousands of Canadians.

    “In implementing a safe supply (policy), it brings the people who need it into an environment where they can then also be offered different forms of treatment. It keeps them alive. It takes courage to make that step to recovery,” said McBain, whose 25-year-old son fatally overdosed five years ago.

    “I think the federal government is trying to do the right thing but in an election year the Liberals don’t want to do anything that might further impact their base.”

    McBain, who advocates for families with the BC Centre on Substance Use, said Health Canada needs to provide the public with information about the process involved in a safer-opioids review by Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, who announced in December she will gather data from provinces and territories.

    “We are committed to exploring additional options for creating the conditions for a safer supply of opioids,” the agency said in a statement, adding its work is “ongoing.”

    Last week, British Columbia’s mental health and addictions minister, Judy Darcy, called on the federal government to “open a courageous conversation” on safer opioids.

    The ministry says it expects to respond to the federal government’s information request for its review by the end of April. 

    Pharmaceutical-grade heroin has been provided since 2014 at the Crosstown Clinic in Vancouver, the only such facility in North America, but the program requiring users to have up to three injections a day under the supervision of nurses can accommodate only about 100 patients at a time and has not been adequately expanded since B.C. declared a public health emergency in 2016.

    Dr. Scott MacDonald, lead physician at Crosstown, which also offers the injectable form of the opioid hydromorphone, said there’s no reason why British Columbia can’t increase access to the program, which an estimated 500 entrenched drug users needed back in 2013.

    “So clearly there’s a need for expansion, not only in Vancouver and British Columbia but across the country,” he said. “And that could be part of the safe supply.”

    However, he said the pure heroin, or diacetylmorphine, must be imported from Switzerland and Health Canada has not made it possible for it to be produced domestically.

    MacDonald said injectable opioids have been available in B.C. as more than 3,000 people have died in the province since the emergency was declared three years ago.

    “I don’t understand the delay,” he said.

    “This is not a partisan issue. It’s about care for people who are at risk for overdose and death and have not responded to any other treatment. It just needs to be made available,” he said, adding diacetylmorphine is an option for five to eight per cent of drug users.

    Three clinics in British Columbia offer injectable hydromorphone, two sites have made it available in Alberta — one each in Calgary and Edmonton — while Ottawa has one facility, MacDonald said.

    B.C.’s Mental Health and Addictions Ministry said it is working with health authorities “to expand injectable hydromorphone therapy as quickly as possible as an additional tool to support people with opioid use disorder.”

    Jordan Westfall, president of the Canadian Association of People Who Use Drugs, said expanding addiction treatment programs has been “too timid” a response and that’s obvious in British Columbia, where the coroner’s service recently reported 1,489 people fatally overdosed in 2018, slightly higher than the previous year.

    “It shows that the government’s direction and policy was ineffective,” Westfall said. “It sounds politically much nicer to say we need treatment. This is a systemic issue and no amount of treatment will change that fact. People are going to continue dying.”

    Shanelle Twan, a member of the same network in Edmonton, said the group is planning a day of action across the country in April to draw attention to the need for safer opioids.

    “Something needs to be done quickly but it just seems that everything is moving at a glacial pace right now,” she said. “It’s unfortunate that politics have to come into play when you’re talking about the lives of ordinary Canadians.”

    Donald MacPherson, executive director of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, said not providing legal opioids to people who have the “disease” of addiction is “barbaric.”

    MacPherson, who was the drug-policy co-ordinator for Vancouver from 2000 to 2009, said starting in the spring, his coalition plans to launch a three-year campaign to educate people across the country on drug policy.

    He said while Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been criticized for saying no to decriminalizing drugs, movement on that issue would not solve the problem of toxic drugs that have killed thousands of Canadians.

    — Follow @CamilleBains1 on Twitter.

    Camille Bains, The Canadian Press

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    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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    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

    fri15feb - 3marfeb 151:00 ammar 32019 Canada Winter Games1:00 am - (march 3) 1:00 am Red Deer

    sat23feb1:00 pm- 4:00 pmMAGSaturday @ the MuseumMAGnificent Saturdays welcomes all ages and abilities to participate in a fun art project every week! 1:00 pm - 4:00 pm

    sun24feb11:00 am- 2:00 pmOne Eleven Jazzy Brunch11:00 am - 2:00 pm

    wed27feb12:30 pm- 1:00 pmBusiness Professionals Video Lecture LunchThis course explains high-level business concepts in simple ways. 12:30 pm - 1:00 pm