1st Session, 42nd Parliament,
Volume 150, Issue 75

Wednesday, November 23, 2016
The Honourable George J. Furey, Speaker

Opioid Crisis

Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Minister, I want to take this opportunity to thank you for being here again, answering our questions.

I have two questions, but I cannot ask you two, so I have done one in writing on assisted dying. As you know, it is a particular passion of mine, but I will give that to you in writing, because I would be remiss if I didn’t ask a question on the opioid crisis.

I come from B.C., and I walk on the streets in Vancouver where the first responders are dealing with the issues regarding the opioid crisis. Two people die in my province every day. That is absolutely unacceptable. Seven die in Canada, and two out of those in my province.

I have two questions. First, Senator White’s bill proposes a simple solution to the crisis, adding six drugs that contribute to the creation of fentanyl and other opiates to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Are you going to do that?

Second, I watched how seriously you have taken this issue, and I thank you for that. But our children are dying. These are Canadian children. I don’t want to be dramatic, but it’s two in my province every day. Are you looking at doing an awareness campaign in schools to raise this issue?

Hon. Jane Philpott, P.C., M.P., Minister of Health: Thank you for raising this issue. It is so important. I walked the streets of the Downtown Eastside in Vancouver when I was there a number of months ago. When I was back there about a week ago, I went to Fire Hall No. 1 in Vancouver, which is truly at the epicentre of this. I met with first responders to give them thanks. They are saving lives every single day. In spite of that, as you say, people tragically die every day.

I have to tell you this weighs deeply on me. There are many things I wish I could snap my fingers for and fix immediately in our system so that they didn’t have to die. When you listen to the families of these people, these are very often young people — people from all walks of life and from all socio-economic levels. It’s truly heartbreaking to see what is happening.

In terms of your specific question on fentanyl precursors, that is moving its way through the regulatory process. I am sure those in this room understand the painfully slow process that it takes to go through regulatory measures, but I want to assure you that I know for a fact it has moved on its way down the line; there is progress on that.

Senators will be pleased with an announcement that I believe is about to be made this afternoon in terms of the matter of illicit fentanyl and the work that our law enforcement officials are able to do to address the massive influx of illicit fentanyl into this country.

I want to let you know again that we are introducing a number of steps. We have heard the request around things like pill presses and the concerns around the examination of small packets coming across the border. As I said to the Minister of Health from British Columbia last week — and he is very aggrieved about this — I told him there is no recommendation that has been made to me that I’m not digging into and asking my department to dig into. I’m really applying every measure of pressure I can. I am always open to hearing more ideas, and that was my message last week at the conference and summit. If there is something we haven’t thought of, please come to me, come to my department and come to my team. Let us know. There are few things that are of such serious concern as this.


Senator Jaffer: Minister, I also asked, have you considered a really strong campaign?

Dr. Philpott: Yes, and I apologize for not having answered that.

In June, I put out a five-point federal action plan on opioids, in terms of what I felt that we as a federal government need to do, and number one in that was public education. In fact, I’m looking and hoping now to get some new resources to support that, which I think will be very helpful to make sure we get the message out. That includes things like making sure that there are better warning labels on prescription medications so that people understand that the medication they’re taking is highly addictive in certain circumstances.

We’re working on supporting prescribers. We know that health care professionals are very concerned about this. They have unfortunately been involved in part of one of the drivers of this, and they believe amongst themselves as professionals that they want better guidelines. Actually, new prescribing guidelines are coming out in January.

The third thing we’re doing is addressing the flow of unnecessary opioids.

We are working on better access to treatment, including harm- reduction facilities.

And the fifth thing that is part of our plan is making sure we have better evidence and better research on the matter.

If there are any things that we have missed in that, any things we’re not working on, I’m absolutely always open to hearing your great ideas.