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ONTARIO: Opioid situation isn't just a crisis, it's an emergency, says Sudbury MPP

Jamie West reveals his first private member's motion as opioid-related deaths climb at 'alarming rate'

The shocking number of opioid deaths in Ontario has prompted Sudbury MPP Jamie West to call on the province to take immediate action to prevent more fatalities.

In 2017, there were 1,265 opioid-related deaths across Ontario. In Northern Ontario alone, there were 105 deaths – including 34 here in Greater Sudbury. Public health units in the North had the top three highest rates of opioid-related deaths in province, and that number is climbing at an alarming rate, West said Thursday.

“We're hearing from our front-line health care workers in Sudbury that one potentially fatal overdose is happening every day,” he said. “Opioid addiction is devastating our communities. This crisis is a silent killer of our friends, our neighbours, our family members and the impact is magnified in Northern communities like Sudbury. Each of these people who have died deserve to be more than just a statistic.”

West revealed the motion he's introducing in the Ontario Legislature, “Preventing Overdoses in the North: More than just a statistic,” at Thursday's news conference. The motion calls on the province to declare the opioid crisis a public-health emergency, and aims to give people suffering from opioid addiction a chance at survival by funding evidence-based health initiatives like overdose prevention sites, harm-reduction strategies and residential treatment programs, among others.

Right now, the province is providing lip service, West said. The minister of health knows it's a crisis, but won't declare an emergency, so there are no dollars or real effort going into it.

“Instead of help, the Ford government has been nothing short of cruel, West said. “The Conservative cuts to public health, the arbitrary cap on the number of overdose prevention sites has ripped away supports for people in very real life-and-death struggles.”

The cuts hit the North particularly hard, he said. The province's plan to merge eight health units into one to serve 625,000 people undermines the work of those organization combating this crisis.

The province has a plan for a limited number of safe injection sites, but they've maintained the mentality that this will solve itself, West said. 

“Well, it won't solve itself, and more people are dying,” he said. “We want leadership to declare this an emergency and to take action on it.

“We need to listen to the experts in the field. We have proven evidence from other provinces of more effective ways to address this crisis, and what we are doing right now isn't effective.”

West hosted his first town hall in November last year. He admits he knew very little about opioid addiction, but did his homework to learn more about it. He hosted a second town hall, which gathered people from a variety of backgrounds, and that resulted in this motion.

A motion is a faster way to get information out to the government than a private member's bill, West said. 

“We're seeking a commitment from the government to move forward. It would be very easy for the province to do that, a concrete agreement that something more will be done to address the situation.”

Many different groups including Sudbury Action Centre of Youth, the Canadian Mental Health Association, Réseau Access Network, as well as Greater Sudbury Police Service and many other partners were involved in drafting the motion.

West said he also talked to people who have experienced first hand the effects of opioid addiction, either as an addict or as a family member who has had to deal with it.

That's where Terry Jenkins comes in. She was on hand for the press conference on Thursday. Jenkins' son, Matthew, died in 2017 when he overdosed. He was 21. 

“My son is a statistic right now, but I want Matthew's name to be remembered, and I want action taken,” Jenkins said. “We know what the problem is, and I'm happy there may finally be some action on the solution. What people have to remember is behind every addiction is a story and a human being.”

This is West's first private member's motion. It will be debated in September, he said.