drug overdose

Study Finds Steep Rise in Opioid-Related Deaths in Ontario

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

Canada is confronting a national opioid crisis. The increasing number of overdoses and deaths caused by opioids is causing a national public health disaster. In fact, in Ontario the overall rate of opioid-related deaths nearly tripled from 2000 to 2015.

A new study by researchers at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto reviewed all deaths in Ontario in which prescribed or illegal opioids were found to be a contributing factor between 2000 to 2015. The study found that there were 7,719 opioid-related deaths during that time period.

In Ontario, researchers found that one out of every six deaths among young adults (aged 25 to 34) was related to opioids in 2015. Research also found that one of nine deaths among those aged 15 to 24 was related to opioids (nearly double that of 2010).

Lead author and scientist, Dr. Tara Gomes, reports that young people need more information about the dangers of illicit drug use and education on how to reach out for help. She also suggested that it is time to be more tolerant to providing access to naloxone (the overdose-reversing drug) in locations where young people can access it (i.e. high schools, universities and music festivals).

Regarding the opioid crisis in Ontario, Dr. Gomes stated:

It is striking to see that despite the efforts put into harm reduction, proper prescribing practices, and education around opioid use, the number of opioid-related deaths continues to rise. The other alarming fact is how this crisis is increasingly impacting our youth and young adults.

Dr. Gomes’ research revealed that a total of 29,410 years of potential life were lost prematurely due to opioid-related causes in 2015, which exceeds the years of life lost prematurely annually from pneumonia, HIV/AIDs and influenza.

Recently, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke in the city of Hamilton, a city which saw 70 opioid-related deaths between January and October in 2017, and declared that situations like theirs were a top priority for his government. The city of Hamilton’s opioid-death rate during 2017 was 78% higher than the provincial rate.

In addressing the opioid crisis, Prime Minister Trudeau stated:

We know that we have to address this. This is getting to be more and more of a problem. We have always put this at the top of our preoccupations as we deal with this public health crisis here in Hamilton and right across the country.

WHAT ARE OPIOIDS?

Opioids are drugs with pain relieving properties that are used primarily to treat pain. Opioids can be purchased at the pharmacy to treat minor aches and pains or prescribed by a doctor to relieve medium to severe pain.

Opioids can produce euphoria, or a high feeling, which leads them to be used improperly. The following are examples of opioids that can be prescribed medications:

  • Codeine;
  • Fentanyl;
  • Morphine;
  • Oxycodone;
  • Hydromorphone; and,
  • Medical heroin.

Dependency, substance use disorder and overdose are serious side effects and risks of using opioids. They have the potential for problematic use because they produce a “high” feeling.

Opioids should only be taken as prescribed, never be used by someone for whom it was not prescribed and never be taken with alcohol or other medication (except as prescribed).

Individuals prescribed with opioids are advised never to share their medication, and are cautioned to store their medication in a safe and secure place and out of reach from children and teenagers. Any unused opioid medication should be returned to a pharmacy for safe disposal to prevent the possibility of illegal use and protect the environment from contamination.

HOW IS THE GOVERNMENT RESPONDING TO THE OPIOID CRISIS?

The Canadian government has reserved $231.4 million to respond to the opioid crisis in Canada, with monies dedicated to strategies such as public health campaigns, data tracking and new equipment and tools to allow border agents to better detect dangerous opioids before they enter Canada.

The Ontario government guaranteed it will spend more than $222 million over three years to address the opioid issue. The money will be used in the following manner:

  • To support health care providers on appropriate pain management and opioid prescribing;
  • To increase addictions treatment in primary care;
  • To add more front line harm reduction outreach workers in communities across the province;
  • For specialized support for indigenous communities and developmentally appropriate care for youth.

Furthermore, Ontario is the first province to provide access to Narcan nasal spray in Ontario pharmacies, free of charge, as part of its Ontario Naloxone Program for Pharmacies. This nasal spray is the only needle-free formulation of naloxone for the emergency treatment of a known or suspected opioid overdose. It does not require assembly or any specialized medical training.

Ontario has also announced that more than 30 communities will receive new or enhanced Rapid Access Addiction Medicine (“RAAM”) clinics. There are currently seven community clinics of this kind, which allow patients to receive medical assisted therapy for their addiction and are then referred to healthcare professionals to begin recovery treatment. Kate Hardy, the manager of the RAAM pilot project in Ontario, stated:

Unlike traditional treatment programs there are no wait times, scheduled appointments, or complicated intake assessments. … RAAM clinics are outpatient to allow patients to continue with their work and family responsibilities, and the service providers are non-judgemental.

As both the federal and provincial governments continue in their efforts to tackle the opioid crisis in Canada, Affleck & Barrison LLP will continue to provide updates through this blog.

If you are facing a drug related charge or have any questions regarding your legal rights, contact Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947. We offer a free consultation and are available to help you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

How the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act Can Help Prevent Drug Overdoses and Deaths

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

There is an increasing number of Canadians overdosing or dying from the use of opioids. The Public Health Agency of Canada has estimated that at least 2,458 Canadians died from an opioid-related overdose in 2016, which amounts to almost seven deaths every day.

On May 4, 2017, the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act (“Act”) became law as part of the Government of Canada’s approach to address the growing number of overdoses and deaths caused by opioids (pain relieving drugs, including fentanyl). Many of these deaths are avoidable if medical attention is obtained quickly, but evidence demonstrates that witnesses to an overdose do not call 911 for concern of police involvement.

The Honourable Jane Philpott, Minister of Health, was quoted as saying,

During an overdose, a call to 911 can often be the difference between life and death. We hope that this new law, and the legal protection it offers, will help encourage those who experience or witness an overdose to make that important call, and save a life.

WHAT LEGAL PROTECTION IS GRANTED BY THE ACT?

This Act provides legal protection for individuals who seek emergency help or witness an overdose. An overdose is defined in the Act as a

 physiological event induced by the introduction of a controlled substance into the body of a person that results in a life-threatening situation and that a reasonable person would believe requires emergency medical or law enforcement assistance.

This Act can protect you from charges for possession of a controlled substance, i.e. drugs, under section 4(1) of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

This Act also protects people in breach of the following conditions under section 4(1) of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act:

  • Parole;
  • Pre-trial release;
  • Probation orders;
  • Simple possession; and,
  • Conditional sentences.

It does not, however, provide legal protection against more serious offences, such as:

  • Outstanding warrants;
  • Production and trafficking of controlled substances; and,
  • All other crimes not outlined within the act.

The Act applies to all people seeking emergency support during an overdose, including the person experiencing the overdose. It also protects anyone who seeks help, whether they stay or leave the overdose scene before help arrives.

WHAT ARE OPIOIDS?

Opioids are drugs with pain relieving properties that are used primarily to treat pain. Over the counter opioids (i.e. Tylenol 1) can be purchased at the pharmacy without visiting a doctor to treat minor aches and pains, like headaches or tooth aches. There are also opioids that are prescribed by a doctor to relieve medium to severe pain, like after surgery.

Fentanyl is an extremely strong opioid that is prescribed for people with extreme pain, like cancer, and should only be used under medical supervision.

This type of drug can produce euphoria, or a high feeling, which leads them to be used improperly. Examples of opioids that can be prescribed medications, such as:

  • Codeine;
  • Fentanyl;
  • Morphine;
  • Oxycodone;
  • Hydromorphone; and,
  • Medical heroin.

Doctors sometimes prescribe opioids for conditions, such as:

  • Acute moderate to severe pain;
  • Chronic pain;
  • Moderate to severe diarrhea; and,
  • Moderate to severe cough.

Dependency, substance use disorder and overdose are serious side effects and risks of using opioids. They have the potential for problematic use because they produce a “high” feeling.

WHAT IS AN OVERDOSE?

An overdose can occur when one has ingested too much of an opioid. Opioids slow down the part of the brain that controls breathing. If you take more opioids than your body can handle, your breathing slows, which can lead to unconsciousness or death. Signs of an overdose include:

  • Person can’t be woken up;
  • Breathing is slow or has stopped;
  • Snoring or gurgling sounds;
  • Fingernails and lips turn blue or purple;
  • Pupils are tiny (pinned) or eyes are rolled back;
  • Body is limp.

WHAT TO DO IN CASE OF A SUSPECTED OVERDOSE

In case of a suspected overdose, the following is recommended:

  • Check to see if the person is breathing. Look, listen and feel.
  • Call 911 immediately. Tell the operator that this is a suspected overdose, so the emergency crew can bring naloxone (a medication that can temporarily stop or reverse an opioid overdose).
  • Do not leave the person alone. Wait until help arrives. If you must leave, turn the person on their side to avoid possible choking.
  • Try to keep the person awake and remind them to take frequent deep breaths.
  • If you are concerned that people you know are using opioids, you can get a naloxone kit from the public health unit or a local pharmacy.

If you are facing a drug related charge or have any questions regarding your legal rights, contact Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947. We offer a free consultation and are available to help you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

 

 

 

How Can We Reduce Fentanyl and Opioid Drug Overdoses?

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

Reported deaths from opioid drug overdoses have been on the rise across Canada and the United States, due in large part to the increased use of opioids such as Fentanyl, heroin and morphine. Since OxyContin was taken off the market in 2013, users have been turning to Fentanyl and heroin which may also be responsible for the increase in overdoses.  Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid 40 times more potent than heroin, prescribed to treat chronic pain in patients already tolerant to other drugs such as morphine or oxycodone. The drug has been gaining in popularity among opioid addicts recently. The drug is typically used in pill form or as a transdermal patch, intended to release the drug over 72 hours, but the drug is also often brought in from places where there is little regulation, such as China and South America.  According to police, the drug has also been turning up mixed into heroin and fake OxyContin pills, often without the knowledge of users. Problems arise when Fentanyl is mixed into street drugs by people who have no chemistry backgrounds and no understanding of the drug’s toxicity.

Many jurisdictions have begun implementing programs to try to reduce overdoses. Just this week, Nova Scotia announced that it would be introducing take-home naloxone kits by January. Naloxone is a medication that acts as an antidote and can reverse an overdose caused by an opioid drug. Toronto already has several naloxone programs in place. To get naloxone, people must be known users and must complete a program. But some people feel it should be easier to access and available over the counter. In British Columbia, RCMP officers will be equipped with and trained to use Naloxone on a person who has overdosed.

Naloxone addresses a dilemma drug users face when someone overdoses: they fear calling 911 will result in an arrest, and so they do nothing to help the person in distress. Many states in the United States have made naloxone available without a prescription in an attempt to save lives. Another way to decrease the number of fatal overdoses would be to implement Good Samaritan laws to protect people from facing potential drug charges when they call 911 after someone they are with overdoses. The focus should be on saving lives and increasing awareness, not on arresting users who do the right thing by calling 911.

To speak with an experienced criminal defence lawyer, please contact Affleck & Barrison online or at 905-404-1947.

Sources:

http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2015/09/21/toronto-overdose-deaths-jump-dramatically.html

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/fentanyl-overdose-kit-nova-scotia-naloxone-1.3259781