Opioid addictionIn a recent submission to Health Canada’s public consultation on the Canadian Drugs and Substances Strategy, CUPE recommended that the federal government increase funding to expand public harm reduction services. This will ensure that services are available based on need and not an ability to pay, and that there’s adequate and high-quality services to meet the demand. All services must be provided in stigma- and judgment-free settings to reduce barriers that often prevent people from accessing them. 

The CBC recently reported that access to harm reduction services varies across Canada. In some areas, especially rural, remote, and Indigenous communities, services aren’t available at all.  For some, chances of surviving an overdose depends on where you live. Harm reduction services must be expanded to help keep people alive and as healthy as possible until they arrive at a point in their life when they’re ready for treatment.

In Canada, eleven people die every day from opioid overdoses. The crisis is impacting communities of all sizes and people from all demographics.  Nine thousand people died from an overdose between January 2016 and June 2018. Of those deaths, 94 per cent were accidental and 72 per cent involved fentanyl. Expanding harm reduction services would help save lives, while also increasing the ability of people experiencing addiction to access needed medical treatment, addiction treatment, counselling, and other social services.  

Harm reduction services include supervised consumption sites and opioid substitution therapies. Supervised consumption sites are health care facilities where people can use previously obtained drugs in a safe environment under the supervision of medically trained staff who provide emergency care in the event of an overdose.

Opioid substitution therapies involve the prescription of medical grade opioids to help treat addiction. Some therapies replace the need for someone to use opioids for non-medical purposes. Other therapies provide individuals with a safe and regulated drug supply, replacing the need to use illicit drugs that are increasingly contaminated with fentanyl. When provided under medical supervision, both types of therapies offer people safe and effective forms of addiction treatment.

Funding levels must also ensure these services are adequately staffed.  This will enable communities to establish new services where none exists and reduce wait times for these critical treatment services.  It will also help to alleviate the stress and burnout that workers on the front lines are experiencing due to high workloads.

With the right supports in place, recovery from opioid addiction is possible. Significantly increasing federal funding to the provinces and territories to expand public harm reduction services will go a long way in helping to curb the current crisis. Communities across Canada can’t wait – they need more funding for these vital services now. Without them, the crisis will deepen and the toll on front-line workers will grow.