New federal initiatives to address the opioid crisis
The increasing number of opioid-related overdose deaths is a national public health crisis. The impact of the crisis continues to be devastating to individuals, families and communities.
As part of the federal government’s efforts to address the opioid crisis, the Government of Canada has announced new activities under the following key areas:
Working with provinces and territories to increase access to treatment
- Health Canada has issued a Notice to Interested Parties seeking stakeholder feedback on a proposal to remove some of the regulatory restrictions specific to diacetylmorphine (pharmaceutical grade heroin) in the Narcotic Control Regulations. These proposed changes would allow diacetylmorphine to be administered to patients outside of a hospital setting and provide an additional treatment option for health care providers. The proposed amendments would allow increased opportunities for diacetylmorphine-assisted treatment to be considered as part of a comprehensive treatment plan that could include other related services, such as primary health care and counselling.
- Correctional Service Canada will provide new funding for a study that will look at the health outcomes and rates of re-offenses for offenders released into the community who received medication assisted treatments during their sentence. People involved in the criminal justice system are at high risk for problematic substance use – including opioid drugs. Many enter correctional institutions in Canada dependent on opioid drugs like heroin and fentanyl.
- Through Health Canada’s Substance Use and Addictions Program (SUAP), the government will fund a pilot project that will provide a safer alternative, such as hydromorphone or Dilaudid, to people who use drugs. This harm reduction measure will help people who use drugs ensure that the drugs they use are not tainted with other substances, such as fentanyl or carfentanil. This pilot project will work in conjunction with other health care services, such as counselling, health services and substance use disorder treatment.
Supporting innovative approaches to address the opioids crisis
- Health Canada will authorize drug checking services at supervised consumption sites. These changes will ultimately help those who use drugs to make choices once they understand what is in their drugs and help lower the number of overdose deaths related to opioids.
- In addition, through Substance Use and Addictions Program (SUAP), the government will fund pilot projects to provide drug checking service at supervised consumptions sites. This will include an evaluation on this innovative approach to harm reduction. Should the pilot projects prove to be successful, they could be expanded to other provinces.
- With the forecasted increase of opioid-related overdose deaths in Canada, the Government of Canada will work with provinces and territories to create a streamlined pathway to establish temporary overdose prevention sites, if a provincial or territorial Minister of Health indicates an urgent public health need. Health Canada will continue to work with applicants across the country to establish permanent supervised consumption sites.
Addressing stigma related to opioid use
- In consultations with people with lived and living experience, stigma related to opioid use remains a barrier to accessing treatment and health care services in Canada. To address stigma, the federal government will work with the British Columbia’s Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions and Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness on a pilot project to raise public awareness of the stigma associated with opioid use and substance use disorder.
- Health Canada will provide new funding through the Substance Use and Addictions Program (SUAP), to develop peer support programs for those with lived and living experiences. Peers and peer worker programs play a large role in normalizing and persuading people who use drugs to seek help from health and social services. Evidence has shown that peers of people who use drugs are usually the first responders in an overdose situation and this can cause a significant amount of trauma for these people with lived and living experiences.
Additional details will be made available as these initiatives move ahead. For more information on federal actions on the opioid crisis, please visit Canada.ca/Opioids.
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