In recent weeks, you may have noticed posters appearing on walls and bulletin boards around the school advertising anti-drug abuse and the dangers of fentanyl. While students have long been cautioned of the risks of recreational drug use, there is an increased urgency to educate young adults on the topic because of the magnitude of the current opioid crisis. The poster’s minor encroachment onto TFS’ halls is only a small manifestation of nation-wide efforts to counteract and prevent further damage beyond the near 3,000 deaths of Canadians by opioid overdoses in 2017 alone.
In addition to the rewiring of national education programs, the Canadian government has launched several “comprehensive, collaborative, compassionate and evidence-based” initiatives, including new legislation, federal investments, and research funding by Health Canada. The RCMP, Canada Border Services Agency, and Canada Post are also cracking down on foreign imports of fentanyl, a potent narcotic often laced in recreational opioids that has been linked to the majority of opioid-caused deaths. An innovative proposal by the B.C. Centre for Disease Control has even suggested the installment of vending machines to provide prescription opioids to curb the resort to dangerous street drugs with unknown contents.
Amongst these changes, Canada’s pioneering of the establishment of safe injection sites all over the country has proven to be especially controversial in Ontario as candidates for upcoming provincial general elections seek to differentiate themselves with campaigns promising significant changes. A major proponent of this political tactic is Ontario Conservative Party Leader Doug Ford, who was revealed in a 2013 Globe and Mail investigation to have been a “go-to dealer of hash” and more involved in the drug business than his well-known late brother, Rob Ford. Perhaps surprisingly given this past experience, at a recent press conference in Sarnia, Ontario, Mr. Ford announced that he is "dead against" allowing opioid users “to go in a little area and do more drugs,” promising instead a focus on rehabilitation.
This declaration has provoked condemning responses, including the view that the life-threatening issue should remain detached from politics altogether, inviting the question of whether policymakers should have the right to intervene in public health. Meanwhile, others have turned to pointing out evidence of the benefits of safe injection centres; Health Minister Helena Jaczek, quoted in a recent Toronto Star article, said “beyond reversing overdoses, these sites regularly connect substance users to addictions treatment, withdrawal management programs and other health and social supports that they would otherwise never have access to.”
Political debates over the opioid epidemic are not limited to only Canada, let alone Ontario; just across the border, where the opioid crisis apparently now “kills as many Americans as guns,” according to a statistical analysis in a Forbes article, Donald Trump has detailed plans to “get tough” and combat the issue through harsher sentencing laws for drug-dealers. While this change might contribute to limiting the illegal distribution of toxic opioids, it fails to address the arguably more convoluted issue of doctors overprescribing opioids for greater profits under the privatized U.S. health care system.
As opioid overdoses ascend up the leaderboard as one of the top ten national leading causes of death, it is instrumental that, while addiction threatens to reach across borders, counteraction continues to come as close as the comforts of our (second) home.