On March 10th the Nova Scotia provincial government announced an additional $1.1 million in funding to help address the opioid epidemic. Myself and other families who have been impacted by the epidemic were pleased to see these funds were being used to expand access to government funded naloxone as well as increased funding to three different harm reduction organizations in the province. These measures will no doubt save lives.The recent funding announcement is a step in the right direction but Nova Scotia still has much farther to go in implementing changes that will stem the opioid crisis.
Nova Scotia has yet to establish any supervised consumption sites. These sites have been a key intervention in other provinces to reduce opioid overdose deaths and allow users to connect with health supports. There has never been a death at a supervised consumption site in Canada. They also help develop positive relationships which can assist the person using in accessing treatment options when ready.
The province’s surveillance and reporting of overdose deaths is almost non existent and needs to be addressed immediately. The lack of surveillance will be a barrier in targeting the most effective responses. It’s March 2017 and we are just finding out Nova Scotia has recorded 60 opioid related deaths for 2016 and four of those deaths were fentanyl related. We do not know what opioids the other 93% of people died from. Where are theses deaths occurring? What demographics are being most affected? What contact are these individuals having with the healthcare system prior to their death? This is all important information we will need to target an effective response and keep people informed. This is information other provinces are releasing weekly, monthly, or quarterly.
The accessibility of opioid substitution therapy and other addiction services will be more critical than ever with the increased availability of high potency opioids like fentanyl on the streets. Prevention efforts such as more cautious opioid prescribing and a stronger prescription monitoring system are imperative in preventing people from being unnecessarily exposed to opioids.
Harm reduction initiatives, increased surveillance and prevention efforts need to happen simultaneously to reduce the demand side of the opioid epidemic. The Nova Scotia government needs to act sooner rather than later to prevent these unnecessary deaths.