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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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    Health

    Rain, wind equals no 4-20 blow out for Parliament Hill, but West Coast shines

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  • OTTAWA — It was a blow out, man, the kind that’s a total drag.

    Protesters dotted one half of Parliament Hill’s front lawn on a blustery, rainy Saturday at the climax the first 4-20 “Weed Day” demonstration since Canada legalized recreational marijuana.

    The turnout disappointed organizers who expected thousands more, but a festive atmosphere prevailed as the Peace Tower clock struck 4:20 p.m., sparking simultaneous smart phone photography and the lighting of joints, bongs and pipes.

    “The weather didn’t co-operate. It kind of shut us down,” Shawn Mac, a program director for 4-20 Ottawa, said moments earlier. “Coming and going, we’ve probably seen about 3,000, but right now, probably about a thousand.”

    A bout of blowing rain earlier in the afternoon meant the shutdown of a public address system, and a made for a sparse gathering of perhaps several dozen people, most huddled under plastic ponchos or tarps.

    Sara Bakir, 29, of Ottawa was one of early arrivals, dressed in a dark hoodie under a black umbrella.

    “It’s still nice to be out with a few like-minded people,” she said laughing, and casting her eyes at the empty and soaked brownish yellow lawn. 

    Organizers learned a tough lesson even before the rain started falling — new freedoms bring great bureaucracy.

    Mac said his group is encountering more red tape Saturday than on past April 20 protests.

    Organizers can’t use the steps to the now-closed Centre Block, which means spectators will need a front row position on the lawn to see or hear — something Mac calls a “huge letdown.” 

    “Hearing is already a problem so not being able to see is a crushing blow,” he said.

    Organizers have also been told to limit musical performers to just two, Mac said, adding that isn’t in the rules of how to hold a public event on the Hill. 

    New limits on auto access also meant organizers had to haul equipment and material by hand up to the lawn from Wellington Street, he added.

    “It’s frustrating because legalization was supposed to … make things easier and not more complicated,” he said.

    Lingering post-legalization concerns are sustaining a sense of protest among 4-20 event organizers across the country.

    They include concerns over the government’s decision to tax medicinal marijuana, slow progress on legislation to expedite pardons for people previously convicted of simple pot possession, and the fact that provincial and municipal governments are grappling with retail sales and land-use laws for growing pot.

    The federal government also has yet to legalize edible marijuana products and has six more months to set rules to do so. 

    “Everything about legalization has made things harder, which is the opposite of what is was supposed to be,” said Mac.

    Others were more upbeat and saw Saturday’s event as an inspiration to the world.

    “Again, the world is watching, and I’m very proud of Canada today and Canadians,” said Kelly Coulter, a cannabis policy adviser based in British Columbia.

    She said Canada is helping change global attitudes and policies as the first G7 nation to legalize pot, and she expected people from Germany and Britain to take part in Saturday’s festivities on the Hill.

    It was a far cry from Ottawa’s subdued festivities on the West Coast, as hoards of people crowded Vancouver’s Sunset Beach to mark the city’s 25th annual 4-20 event warmed by rays of glorious spring sunshine amid a low lying marijuana haze.

    A much smaller crowd gathered at the front lawn of British Columbia’s legislature in Victoria, but the mood was equally celebratory and defiant.

    “Today, in many ways, is bittersweet for us,” said long-time marijuana activist Ted Smith, who led the countdown chant to 4:20 p.m. in Victoria. “We’re happy it’s legalized, sure, but there’s a lot of things to protest.”

    Smith, in between puffs from a large joint, said the current marijuana rules are biased against entrepreneurs who want to sell their products in much the same way as craft brewers and winemakers.

    And a downpour didn’t dampen the festivities at Woodbine Park in Toronto’s east end, where revellers trampled through the muddy grass to the steady thrum of house music.

    Cannabis artisans sold their wares at tarp-covered stands, many expressing hope that they could one day emerge from the “grey market” to set up shop at brick-and-mortar storefronts.

    Justin Loizos, owner of the Just Compassion marijuana dispensary in Toronto, said the mood Saturday was more celebratory than in past 4-20 gatherings, which felt more like protests.

    The current regime may not be the “legalization people asked for,” Loizos said, but the cannabis community should take heart in just how far Canada has come.

    “I see a lot of people complaining, whatever — don’t,” he said. “We’re just going to celebrate here and enjoy the day.”

    — with files from Adina Bresge and Dirk Meissner.

    Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press




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    Celebrity Dance Off

    Travolta and Newton-John wrap up the Celebrity Dance Off

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  • Trevor Sopracolle went from watching the Celebrity Dance Off last year, to being front and centre this year!  Trevor was the first “Oil Man” in the Celebrity Dance Off.  Hopefully the first of many.  He’s also one of the toughest looking Travolta’s you’ll ever see.  Trevor and his pro partner Alex McPherson wrapped up the show with a brilliant choice of music from Grease.  “Olivia” was amazing.. and “John” turned the world upside down.  See for yourself. .. 

    My Story…

    I was born in Goodsoil, Saskatchewan and moved to Alberta when I was in grade 3 and spent most of my youth in Consort.

    I lost my Dad to cancer when I was in high school and so I grew up fast. At 17 I secured a loan for a 2-bedroom house with a dirt floor basement. To make ends meet, I worked as a tire technician at the local tire shop while attending high school. One of the only benefits of owning your own place in high school is having the coolest parties after the high school dances!

    I moved to Red Deer in 1999 at the age of 19 and began working at Fountain Tire. Not long later a local snubbing company hired me. Over a 10-year period I worked my way up becoming a senior supervisor overseeing most of the higher-class pressure jobs and many overseas projects. In 2008, Garrett Radchenko and I started Goliath Snubbing Ltd., and we haven’t looked back.

    I have also been blessed with the best kids a Dad could ask for. Being a single Dad with three kids under 8 definitely keeps me busy.


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