The opioid epidemic deserves more than lip service

In Canada, your chances of dying in an opioid related overdose are more than the combined probability of a fatal car accident and a homicide.

According to Canada's Chief Public Health Officer, Theresa Tam, that’s eight people per day. Even though this statistic and ongoing epidemic is alarming, it has taken a backseat in the media to bigger, more dramatic issues like US politics that crowd our national conversations.

Canadians aren’t able to take any sort of moral high ground while this epidemic festers in our homes and communities. Right now it’s a crime of inaction and more needs to be done.

Although there hasn’t been wide spread media attention, individual provinces and groups have made positive steps towards solving the health crisis across the country.

Health Canada has allowed the importation of drugs to treat opioid addiction; Alberta declared it a public health crisis in May and pledged $30-million to its response and Ontario announced it would distribute 80,000 naloxone kits among public health units in June, which can prevent overdoses if administered in time.

Despite these efforts, opioid poisoning hospitalizations have risen from an average of 13 Canadians per day two years ago to an average of 16 today. According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, it’s unclear whether these overdoses are due to illegal or prescribed drugs.

This lack of information points to the multiple layers of crisis that we need to address. On one hand, we need more thorough record keeping that can allow policy makers to know the source of the drugs landing Canadians in hospitals so they can respond accordingly.

On the other, Canadians should push their MPs to ensure that the Northern territories — where hospitalizations are the highest in the country — have the resources to provide life saving drugs and addiction counselling. 

We have an ethical responsibility as citizens to address every crisis that faces our communities. You don’t have to be a police officer, health care professional or a prime minister to demand more be done.

There are different ways of having an impact — you just need to see what can be done at home in your community and what’s possible farther away. Whether it’s keeping the issue in conversation or offering time and support to local resources, you need to hold your politicians accountable at every level. It’s up to each of us to ensure this isn’t swept away again once some poorly spelt presidential tweet goes viral.

While strides have been taken in the last year with increased funding and resources, we still have a bigger obligation to help protect the long-term health of our communities. It all starts with the actions of everyday Canadians.

This is your country and it needs your attention.

Nick is the Journal’s Arts Editor. He’s a Fourth year Global Development Studies major.

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