Opioid working group gets nod

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London’s response to the opioid crisis might become nearly as complex as the addictions that require it.

City politicians voted in favour of yet another group focusing on solutions to opioid abuse Tuesday, but several admitted they were unclear on what, exactly, they were supporting.

“I need to know this is going to be effective,” Coun. Phil Squire told the community and protective services committee. His motion to send the plan back to staff for clarification was narrowly defeated.

There was concern forming an opioid crisis working group — pitched by the mayor, though Matt Brown was absent Tuesday — will duplicate work already done by more than half a dozen committees and agencies.

But city politicians did agree on one thing. The dependence on opioids, and the resulting public health crisis, needs to be addressed right away.

“We’re in a crisis situation that deserves immediate attention,” said Coun. Maureen Cassidy. “We see all the spillover with the HIV rates and the Hep(atitis) C rates. All of this is interrelated.”

London saw 25 opioid overdose deaths in 2015, according to the health unit.

“What’s most important is every single one of these deaths is preventable,” said Gayane Hovhannisyan, associate medical officer of health, who stood in for Middlesex-London Health Unit boss Christopher Mackie.

And that reaches every corner of society, Hovhannisyan said.

“We had a straight-A student who died just in January. We had a nurse who just passed due to overdose recently,” she said.

But Squire and Coun. Harold Usher tried to pump the brakes on the working group, asking about duplication.

The city already has an opioid surveillance group, and another investigating supervised injection sites, not to mention a broader drug and alcohol strategy.

“I don’t want to start something we’re already doing,” said Usher. “It seems to me to be one and the same. The only difference is the name.”

Squire suggested sending the matter back to staff to prepare a report on the “big picture,” including work already being done.

“I think we need a more all-encompassing approach to this,” he said.

But there’s still time for the details city politicians want clarified when the pitch for the new opioid crisis working group comes to council at month’s end. The committee included an amendment requiring the working group to report back to council on its role and relationship to similar committees.

The difference between the opioid crisis and the other drug problems in London, Hovhannisyan said, is one has reached a critical juncture.

“We may find ourselves in a situation where people are dropping dead (from opioids), and we know those are preventable,” she said. “The responsibility to be prepared, to do something to prevent something from happening, is more urgent.”

Cassidy argued stigma around drug abuse is part of the problem.

“If this was something like SARS or Ebola . . . we wouldn’t hesitate,” she said of the working group. “I don’t think it’s something we can delay any longer.”


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