Cross Country Checkup

Is it time for a national strategy on the opioid crisis?

Big city mayors want Ottawa to help them get control of the opioid crisis. Deaths from overdoses are soaring in cities across the country and many mayors feel powerless to stop them. Is it time for a national strategy on the opioid crisis?
A man injects himself with heroin using a needle obtained from the People's Harm Reduction Alliance in an April 30, 2015 photo. (David Ryder/Reuters)

Carnage. Perhaps that's the best word to describe the human devastation caused by the opioid crisis.

Almost 2,500 Canadians died of opioid overdoses last year — nearly seven people every day— according to new data released by public health officials this week in a first attempt to try to compile a national picture of the crisis. British Columbia has been hardest hit. Fatal overdoses there have overtaken motor vehicle crashes as the leading cause of death, prompting the province to declare a public health emergency last year.

But, from coast to coast, the death toll caused by opioids is on the rise.

The mayors of Canada's biggest cities have declared it's time to act, calling for a national action plan to treat the country's opioid crisis.

Problem is, there isn't just one opioid crisis. There are overlapping crises.

In the West, what's behind the spike in overdoses is fentanyl, a fast-acting, non-pharmacuetical synthetic painkiller... 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. Street drugs are being laced with fentanyl, leaving what the mayor of Vancouver calls a "bloodbath" with no end in sight.

In the East, especially Ontario, the trouble lies with prescription drugs making their way to the street. Doctors are prescribing opioids widely and liberally. Canada is now ranked the world's second biggest consumer of prescription opioids. And when prescriptions run out, some of those consumers turn to the streets.

Are doctors to blame for opioid addiction and over-dosage? Are provinces doing enough to prevent over-prescribing and doctor-shopping? Or is the crisis making it harder for patients to obtain painkillers?

The Prime Minister says the federal government won't rest until it turns the tide of opioid epidemic, touting $110 million dollars set aside for a national drug strategy.

Health Canada has ramped up approvals of supervised-injection sites. Vancouver, Surrey, Toronto, and Montreal will now have clinics. Should there be more. so drug users can inject legally under the watchful eye of nurses? What about addiction treatment centres? Are there enough where you live? 

Our question today: Is it time for a national strategy on Canada's opioid crisis? Is the crisis affecting you?


Naheed Nenshi

Mayor of Calgary 

Twitter: @nenshi 

Sarah Blyth

Founder of the Overdose prevention Society in Vancouver 

Dr. Granger Avery 

President of the Canadian Medical Assocation

Twitter: @gavery10

Josh Clatney

Former addict and a special advisor to the executive director with We the Parents, an Ottawa grassroots parents organization formed this year to fight teen drug abuse.

Twitter: @WeTheParentsCAN

Carlyn Zwarenstein

Author of Opium Eater and opioid user

Twitter: @CarlynZwaren

Dr. Susan McDonald 

Associate Professor of Medicine and Family Medicine at Memorial University of Newfoundland, and Past President of the Canadian Society of Palliative Care Physicians. Deals with managing chronic pain in patients daily.

Twitter: @CanadianHPCAssn

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What we're reading

The Globe and Mail

National Post


Global News

Vancouver Sun

Toronto Life

​Calgary Herald 

Guelph Mercury Tribune

Federation of Canadian Municipalities


Health Quality Ontario