Tracey Ramsey urges opioid resources for rural communities

Ms. Tracey Ramsey (Essex, NDP) 

    Mr. Speaker, earlier this year in question period, I asked the government for immediate action on the opioid crisis. I said that we cannot afford to wait for Bill C-37 to wind its way through the parliamentary process. Ironically, months later, while this legislation has made progress, it has not yet received royal assent.

    At the time, I asked the government to provide immediate and direct support to communities like those I represent in Essex which continue to grapple with this public health emergency. Unfortunately, this crisis continues to spiral. Front-line workers do not have the resources that they need. People in my community are frustrated and angry by the lack of response from the government.

    Earlier today, the Minister of Health spoke about emergency funding to B.C. and Alberta. I would like to remind her that communities across Canada need emergency funding. Small communities especially are struggling to deal with this issue when there is not a holistic plan. We need care in this country that sees people from detox through transition and into rehab. That is very difficult to find in small communities. We need the government to step up with the resources necessary to bring this crisis under control.

    In my riding of Essex, youth addiction is a significant issue. In fact, our county has the seventh highest rate of youth addiction in the province. People in law enforcement feel that their hands are tied and they are stuck in the cycle as well. They pick up the same person, bring him or her to the hospital, and then the person is back on the street again. They want to be part of the solution, but there is currently no way for them to participate in that.

    Families are feeling desperate. When a loved one experiences an addiction, the parents and the family struggle so much. It is life or death. They try to support their loved one in getting help, but there are so many gaps in the system that it often feels like the system is working against them. Families are doing all they can to help each other.

    This morning I spoke with a woman from my riding who was trying to help another family save their child. Fortunately, she was able to get her daughter into treatment and her daughter is healthy today, but this is not the case for everyone. If it were not for Narconon and family support systems that are popping up, we would have no formal way for people to be able to find out what treatment is available to them.

    When someone with an addiction is ready to detox and then go to rehab, it is often the beginning of a frustrating experience of running up against the common problems of lack of beds, long wait lists, and a complete lack of resources. People with addictions simply cannot get the help they need and sadly, this can have tragic consequences. People not being able to get into help is heartbreaking.

    I have met with some of these families. They have visited me in my office. It is a very emotional conversation with people who are struggling to get their loved ones the help that they need. I have heard their pain and sorrow, and more often, their frustration and anger. When families tell me that their only hope is that their loved one will somehow end up in jail so that their loved one can get the treatment that he or she needs, this tells us how incredibly broken our system is.

    Since I held a round table several months ago, seven more people have died in our region due to opioid addictions. I implore the government to revisit its five point plan and reconsider the level of resources that this public health crisis deserves. I would like to ask what the government can offer to rural communities like those in Essex to assist with strengthening the response to the opioid crisis.

Mr. Mark Holland (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, Lib.):  

    Mr. Speaker, our government is indeed deeply concerned about the growing number of unintentional opioid overdoses and deaths being reported in Canada, including those involving fentanyl and carfentanil. We know that this is a complex issue and that no one organization or level of government is going to be able to find a solution on its own.

    Months ago, we recognized that there was an opioid crisis in Canada, and since then this government has taken swift and concrete action. We have been working closely with the provinces and territories, community organizations, academia, and international partners in all areas of response, from prevention and treatment to law enforcement and harm reduction.

    We listened when nurses, doctors, pharmacists, patients, and parent organizations told us that removing the requirement for a prescription to access naloxone would allow for a more rapid response in a potential overdose situation, increasing the chance of survival. We applauded the decision of those provinces and territories that followed this recommendation and delisted naloxone in their jurisdictions.

    Health Canada has also worked to provide access for Canadians to a single-use nasal spray delivery system for naloxone, which has already been approved for use in other countries. This provides our first responders and communities with an alternative to injectable naloxone that is easier to carry and administer in the event of an overdose outside a hospital setting.

    In November last year, the Minister of Health co-hosted an opioid conference and summit, along with the Ontario Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, where participants from across the country, in a joint statement of action, committed to concrete actions to address this crisis.

    The Public Health Agency of Canada is using tools at its disposal to deal with a national public health event of concern. A special advisory committee on the epidemic of opioid overdoses was struck to focus on urgent issues related to the opioid crisis. This committee is co-chaired by Canada's interim chief public health officer and the chief medical officer of health for Nova Scotia. Supported by the Public Health Agency of Canada, it includes representation of the chief medical officers of health from every province and territory. This federal, provincial, and territorial committee provides a mechanism for collaboration and information-sharing among jurisdictions focused on improving data gathering and surveillance, supporting harm reduction efforts, and addressing prevention and treatment options. To inform response efforts and to monitor the extent of the crisis, the committee is sharing, coordinating, and analyzing existing data on the public health impact of opioids in Canada. This includes examining indicators, standardizing definitions, and lending support to collaboration between chief coroners and medical examiners, led by the Canadian Institute for Health Information.

    Special advisory committees have previously been established as a cross-jurisdictional mechanism to allow for timely decisions on public health operations and to facilitate policy advice to deputy ministers of health, including during significant public health events such as the H1N1, Ebola outbreaks, Zika, and the welcoming of over 25,000 Syrian refugees.

    I could go on at great length. This is a very serious crisis, one the government is meeting with all available tools at our disposal.

Ms. Tracey Ramsey:  

    Mr. Speaker, I thank the parliamentary secretary for expressing his concern, but without action, it is hollow and meaningless to people in our communities who are watching their loved ones suffer and die.

    The government cannot focus only on big cities, because action is desperately needed in small towns like LaSalle, Amherstburg, Essex, Kingsville, and Lakeshore in southwestern Ontario, which have no ability to get into those beds, who call up the hospital and cannot get into rehab, because there are no beds available. Where does that leave them with their loved ones who are looking for a rehab facility that does not exist in our region, who have to travel out of town, who have to be on wait-lists? Rural communities cannot be left behind in the government's plan to address the opioid crisis.

    How is the government helping rural communities that are being devastated? The government needs to show leadership and declare a national public health emergency.

Mr. Mark Holland:  

    Mr. Speaker, in December, our government announced the new Canadian drugs and substances strategy. I certainly appreciate the member's concern for rural communities. It is one I share. This strategy will restore harm reduction as a core pillar of Canada's drug strategy.

    The member also referenced some of the emergency funding put in place. We had recent funding announcements in February 2017 and in budget 2017, including $100 million over five years, starting in 2017-18, with $22.7 million per year ongoing to support national measures associated with the new drug strategy and the implementation of the opioid action plan. That, of course, would also affect rural communities.