The Prime Minister took a tour of the Downtown East Side Friday morning to get a first-hand look at the impacts of the opioid crisis, but made no commitment to heed the suggestions from front-line volunteers.
“We need to come together as a country to help our most vulnerable to recognize the challenges faced day in and day out by drug users, by people who are victims of addiction, mental health problems and we need to do more as a society to help them,” Trudeau said.
The PM has yet to commit to funding doctors prescribing clean heroin to users, which would be clear of fentanyl and ketamine that has anecdotally seen an overdose increase in the last few days.
It’s one idea from volunteers and health officials alike, but Trudeau says funding the suggestion is among the discussions in progress.
“Yes, there is a need for specific funding for front-line support and medical support and of course we’re working with the province on that.”
Trudeau did acknowledge the mental strain on first responders after the roundtable discussion he attended with various leaders of front-line organizations and politicians.
He says he’s aware of the devastating impact the opioid crisis is having on them.
“But also community organizations, community leaders, people who’ve come together to support each other in extraordinarily difficult situations and it was… an incredibly emotional opportunity for me.”
However, Trudeau stopped short of answering questions on why there’s been no national public health emergency, saying there’s already no barriers in place to fight it.
PM also ducking ? on why no national public health emergency to combat opioid crisis. Says there’s already no barriers in place to fight it pic.twitter.com/GY4T6nrMPa
— Jeremy Lye (@JJLye980) March 3, 2017
In the days leading up to Trudeau’s Vancouver visit, Ann Livingston with the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users was hopeful that announcement might be made.
“We really need a much more in-depth examination of how we’re going to do the right thing for the longer term and really not just spend all our time running around with syringes full of Narcan trying to deal with individual overdoses. That we take a really hard look at who are these people how did they end up here,” she said.
Active front-line workers seemingly not part of roundtable
While the Prime Minister sat down with health officials and heard stories from the front lines, it seems the discussion included mostly suits and no working front-line staff.
“The Prime Minister met with first responder agencies requested by the deputy police chief, deputy fire chief. There were also a number of responder agencies from the community.”
That from Joe Acker, Director of patient care delivery for B.C. Emergency Health Services.
He says compelling stories were shared between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and health professionals.
When asked if Trudeau should have heard directly from front-line workers…
“I think our paramedics, and dispatchers, firefighters, and police officers, their stories are incredibly important, I think that the Prime Minister would have definitely received value from that.”
Acker says it was a strategic meeting to discuss and share lessons from workers in the province to share with officials across the country.
“We asked the Prime Minister to do what he could from a federal level to ensure that paramedics have the access to Naloxone across the country, that’s not true for all jurisdictions and to extend that to all first responders.”
He adds, the health authority asked for more support towards paramedics, who he says have been physically and emotionally impacted by the overdose epidemic.
Sarah Blythe with the Overdose Prevention Society disagrees with the Prime Minister’s decision to not take funding suggestions for the opioid crisis from front-line workers at this time.
Blythe says she would of liked to have been part of that discussion to talk about the crisis from the very beginning to offer help.
“You know, though we were disappointed that we weren’t there, we’re gonna keep trying to get the message out that it needs to be a national health crisis and that people are dying every day.”
Trudeau says his government is working with the province to come up with funding for more front-line and medical support.
With files from Emily Lazatin