Feds to tackle opioid crisis through legislation: Philpott

‘There are a number of pieces of legislation that are going to address matters related to the opioid crisis,’ health minister says

Fentanyl pills are shown in a handout photo. Police say organized crime groups have been sending a potentially deadly drug through British Columbia to Alberta and Saskatchewan using hidden compartments in vehicles. (Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams/CP)

Fentanyl pills are shown in a handout photo. (Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams/CP)

OTTAWA – The federal government is eyeing a number of legislative changes to address Canada’s opioid crisis, Health Minister Jane Philpott said Saturday at the conclusion of a summit examining the issue.

The federal government is actively trying to turn the tide of the crisis, Philpott added, noting it will require a whole of government approach.

“This is a topic I have been working with alongside the minister for public safety, the minister of justice and the minister of foreign affairs,” she said.

“In the coming months, there are a number of pieces of legislation that are going to address matters related to the opioid crisis and certainly we will do the work necessary.”

Addiction, overdose and deaths related to opioid use was the focus of discussions for health experts and ministers who gathered in Ottawa for a two-day summit to look at a national approach.

On Saturday, B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake urged the federal government to waste no time in taking additional action to address Canada’s opioid crisis, including setting up a nationally co-ordinated surveillance system to track overdoses and other drug-related harm.

Related: Medical experts urge Canada to declare public emergency over opioid crisis

The province also wants the federal government to look at tools to stop the flow of fentanyl from China by stepping up diplomatic negotiations.

“They need to properly equip the Canadian Border Services Agency and the RCMP with the tools and resources needed for border control and to get fentanyl off the streets,” Lake said in a Saturday statement.

British Columbia says 622 people overdose deaths have happened in that province since January – more than double the number of people who died in car crashes last year.

The province has felt the brunt of the opioid crisis, Philpott conceded Saturday, as she commended provincial officials for their work to address the “serious and growing crisis” there.

B.C. is also urging the federal government to repeal Bill C-2 – legislation passed by the previous Conservative government – to ensure the sites can be established sooner.

The federal government has promised to amend the Respect for Communities Act.

In the meantime, Philpott said her officials are working to support community members during the existing application process.

In a joint statement released Saturday at the conclusion of the Ottawa summit, Health Canada committed to issuing an update on its opioid action plan by February 2017.

It includes a promise to better inform Canadians of opioid risks.

Dr. Gregory Taylor, Canada’s chief public health officer, stressed the significance of summit.

“I’ve never been at an event like this in my career, ever,” he said.

“I found it overwhelming … we kept coming back to the number of people who are dying as just the tip of the iceberg.”

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