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Many Canadians are driving high on cannabis, according to new national survey

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OTTAWA — A new Statistics Canada survey reveals an “alarming” number of Canadians have driven a vehicle while high on cannabis or have been passengers in such vehicles.

According to the second quarterly national cannabis survey, 14 per cent of cannabis users who have a driver’s licence admitted they got behind the wheel within two hours of consuming cannabis at least once in the past three months.

And five per cent of Canadians over the age of 14 said they’ve been a passenger in a vehicle driven by someone who’d consumed cannabis in the preceding two hours.

The survey results were released Thursday, just two months before cannabis is to become a legal, regulated product in Canada.

Statistics Canada is conducting quarterly surveys throughout this year as part of an effort to measure the social and economic impacts of legalization.

Andrew Murie, chief executive officer of MADD Canada, called the latest numbers “alarming” — more than triple the rate of Canadians who drive after consuming alcohol in the preceding two hours.

“I think if you compare it to alcohol, they’re shocking,” he said in an interview.

However, Murie noted that the federal government has recently authorized more tools to test drivers for cannabis impairment and he predicted the rate of drug-impaired driving will drop once police get those tools operational.

“I think once people get the idea that police do have the tools, that they can detect drug-impaired drivers, especially cannabis, then I think like alcohol with the breathalyzer it’ll start to lower those rates.”

Part of the problem in discouraging driving while high is that no one can pinpoint how much cannabis needs to be consumed to cause impairment, Murie said, noting that there are too many variables, such as the potency of pot consumed and an individual’s tolerance level.

To be on the safe side, he said MADD — Mothers Against Drunk Driving — recommends that no one should drive a vehicle within four hours of consuming any amount of cannabis.

According to the survey, men were nearly two times more likely than women to drive high.

The second quarter data found that about 4.6 million people nationally, or close to 16 per cent of Canadians aged 15 and up, reported using cannabis in the prior three-month period. This was similar to what was reported in Statistics Canada’s first quarterly survey.

Cannabis use was higher than the national average in Nova Scotia (21 per cent), Ontario (18 per cent) and in the territorial capitals: Whitehorse (23 per cent), Yellowknife (27 per cent) and Iqaluit (33 per cent).

The survey suggests cannabis use is highest among young people — 33 per cent of 15 to 24-year-olds, compared to 13 per cent of Canadians over the age of 25. Statistics Canada suggests higher usage among young people may account for regional variations, particularly in the territorial capitals where populations tend to be considerably younger than the national average.

Consumption rates in Quebec and Saskatchewan were lower than the national average, at 11 and 10 per cent respectively.

The vast majority of respondents — 82 per cent — also said they probably wouldn’t increase their consumption once pot is legalized.

The latest data was collected from mid-May to mid-June.

 

The Canadian Press



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Advocacy group says Toronto overdose deaths highlight need for prevention sites

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TORONTO — A string of overdose deaths in a pocket of Canada’s most populous city highlights the urgent need for new overdose prevention sites, an advocacy group said Wednesday, calling on Ontario to reverse a decision to pause the opening of such facilities.

The Toronto Overdose Prevention Society said a public safety alert from police about seven deaths believed linked to opioid use over 12 days shows that overdose prevention services should be expanding.

“This safety warning underlines why (overdose prevention sites) are so necessary, and why ‘pausing’ them in the middle of a public health crisis is so wrongheaded,” it said. “The evidence of the need for these sites is clear.”

Premier Doug Ford called overdose deaths a tragedy and agreed Wednesday that the province is facing a “crisis.” Ontario is reaching out to experts to get their input on overdose prevention sites, he said, adding that the government’s goal is to save lives, get people off drugs and into rehab.

“This is a major, major crisis,” he said. “It’s all hands on deck. It’s not just the government. It’s the police. It’s the agencies. It’s the experts. We all have to work together.”

Health Minister Christine Elliott said Monday that three sites set to open in Thunder Bay, Ont., St. Catharines, Ont., and Toronto were being put on hold as the government conducts a review to determine if such facilities will continue to operate in the province. A decision on the sites will be made by the end of September, she said.

One of the new prevention sites that did not open as scheduled on Monday due to the province’s decision was set to be located in Toronto’s 14 Division, where the seven fatal overdoses took place — though police note there is already one such facility operating in the area. 

Investigators said the deaths were likely linked to the opioids fentanyl and carfentanil — synthetic painkillers far more potent than heroin.

Supt. Neil Corrigan, unit commander for 14 Division, said officers have ramped up public outreach following the deaths, which he said were unusual but not unprecedented.

“One (death) is obviously too many,” he said. “Seven is certainly something for us to be significantly concerned about.”

He said his division, which is located just west of the city’s downtown core, doesn’t necessarily have more of a drug problem than other areas but is certainly frequented by recreational drug users and people with addictions.

A spokeswoman for Toronto Public Health said that on average, Toronto Paramedics Services responded to three fatal suspected opioid overdoses per week on average over the past year — or roughly five overdoses in a 12-day period.

Toronto Mayor John Tory said overdose prevention sites are one of the ways “all three governments” are working on addressing the opioid epidemic.

“Until we decide as a country and as a province and as a city that we’re going to come to grips with the problem of mental health and addictions … we are going to continue to see this kind of thing happen,” he told reporters on Wednesday.

Overdose prevention sites are approved by the province and are temporary facilities set up to address an immediate need in a community, while safe injection sites are more permanent locations approved by the federal government after a more extensive application process.

Statistics Canada data shows that in the first six months of 2017, there were 1,460 opioid-related deaths in the country and that count is expected to rise as data becomes available.

Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press


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Police chiefs call for stricter controls on pill presses to fight opioids

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OTTAWA — Canada’s police chiefs are urging Ottawa to beef up its fight against the scourge of opioids by more closely vetting people who import pill presses.

In a resolution passed at its annual conference in Halifax, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police said the federal government did not go far enough when it introduced changes that made it illegal to import unregistered presses.

The chiefs say the illicit use of presses has helped increase the supply of street drugs containing synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, contributing to a crisis of overdose deaths.

According to figures published in June, there were 3,987 apparent opioid-related deaths in Canada in 2017, the vast majority of which were unintentional. Almost-three quarters of accidental opioid-related deaths involved fentanyl or fentanyl analogues, compared to 55 per cent the previous year.

Police raids of drug labs have shown that presses, encapsulators, stamps and dyes are widely used in producing counterfeit pills.

“In our efforts to disrupt this illegal market we were frustrated with the ease at which these devices could be purchased and imported,” the chiefs said in a background document made public Tuesday.

“Several investigations have revealed the significant amount of pills that could be produced for street distribution with these industrial pill presses.”

Changes to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act last year introduced a registration requirement to import pill presses. But the chiefs say tightening these provisions further would help police.

“Counterfeit pills containing fentanyl and its analogues continue to make their way to the illicit drug markets across Canada,” says the background document.

The new resolution calls for comprehensive scrutiny of people and businesses importing pill presses and encapsulators, including a requirement to spell out the equipment’s intended use. In addition, the chiefs want controls over domestic sales of imported presses.

Scott Bardsley, a spokesman for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, said Tuesday the federal department values the chiefs’ input and “will listen carefully to their views as we continue our work to keep Canadians safe.”

He noted that importers are already required to register the address where a pill press will be used, and that information can be disclosed to police as part of an investigation.

British Columbia, which has been hard hit by opioid overdoses, introduced legislation in April aimed at restricting ownership, possession and use of manufacturing equipment, including presses.

The bill would require those looking to sell the equipment to register and consent to a criminal record check. In addition, there are notification provisions concerning sales.

“This bill is critical in bolstering police efforts to disrupt the supply chain and get counterfeit pills off of the streets and out of the hands of those who recklessly distribute death-dealing drugs,” B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said at the time.

— Follow @JimBronskill on Twitter

Jim Bronskill , The Canadian Press


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