Quebec health minister says Ontario's plan to reconsider supervised injection sites a mistake

Announcing $35 million in new funding to combat opioid addiction and other dependency issues like online gambling, Gaétan Barrette took a shot at Ontario's new premier, Doug Ford.

Adding $35M to Quebec's anti-addiction strategy, Gaétan Barrette takes shot at Doug Ford

Quebec Health Minister Gaétan Barrette said it would be a mistake for Ontario to close its safe injection sites. He said they're an important tool in the fight against opioid overdoses. (CBC)

No stranger to controversy, Quebec Health Minister Gaétan Barrette is offering free advice to the administration of Ontario's new premier, Doug Ford.

At a news conference Wednesday to announce Quebec is injecting another $35 million into its own program to deal with dependence on opioids and other drugs, as well as online gambling, Barrette questioned Ford's intention to shut down supervised injection sites in Ontario.

In the lead-up to his June 7 election victory, Ford said he was "dead against" supervised injection sites for intravenous drug users, proposing rehabilitation as an alternative.

"I have never heard of any data against the efficacy of safe injection sites," Barrette told reporters in Montreal, when asked about Ford's approach.

He said in British Columbia, which has the highest death toll in Canada from opioid overdoses, the situation would be worse if it weren't for the presence of supervised injection sites.

"They would have had many more deaths," Barrette said.

Barrette's Ontario counterpart, Health Minister Christine Elliott, has said she is reviewing evidence on whether the supervised injection sites "have merit" and are worth continuing.

Online gambling is also targeted in Quebec's anti-addiction strategy. (CBC)

"No one, neither you nor I, is immune from becoming dependent one day, and we should be vigilant, and we will be — and we will be there for those people," Barrette told reporters.

"Dependence is complicated," he said. "It is not limited to opiates. It is not limited to cyberdependence. It is not limited to gambling and to forms of dependence that we do not know about yet.

"But in all cases it requires help, investments, treatment, and I think with the announcement we are making, we are showing that we are responding and clearly expressing our will to continue to help people who are vulnerable."

'One death is too many'

Barrette pointed out that Quebec has managed so far to avoid the fentanyl crisis other jurisdictions are facing, crediting the work of doctors and pharmacists in prescribing fewer of the powerful pain killers, for shorter periods of time.

While there were over 1,000 opioid-overdose deaths reported in Ontario in 2017, in Quebec, with just over two-thirds of Ontario's population, the total was 181, Barrette said, and the total for Canada as a whole was 3,611.

"The figures speak for themselves," he said.

"One death is one too many. Even though here are fewer, we should still take action to ensure there are even less."

Public Health Minister Lucie Charlebois, who pilots the government's drug policies, said Quebec's 2017-2018 plan to deal with dependency issues is budgeted at $220 million.

That includes her plans to control the use of cannabis and inform the public of its dangers when recreational marijuana becomes legal in Canada in October.

"We have a lot of informing to do," Charlebois said, adding that in addition to controlling drug use, Quebec's policies to deal with dependency include online gambling addictions.  

"We are just at the beginning of knowing how to treat these people," Charlebois said.

Public Health Minister Lucie Charlebois, who is also responsible for youth protection and healthy living, said the $35-million plan is based on the 'most promising approaches' to curb and treat addiction. (CBC)

The added $35 million will focus on opioids and cyberdependency, with $15 million of the new money financing measures to combat opioid overdoses.

That money will go to the professional associations for Quebec's doctors and pharmacists to maintain and expand awareness of the dangers of over-prescribing drugs such as Fentanyl.

Naloxone to be more available 

Community groups, including Indigenous groups, will be given Naloxone, the antidote for Fentanyl overdoses, to expand the availability of Naloxone beyond the health-care network.

Naloxone is already available free of charge in Quebec pharmacies and aboard ambulances in the province.

Barrette said police would be trained to use Naloxone, which is available in an injectable form and now as a nasal spray as well.