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Carter and Chapman push for more action on opioid crisis

By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express

Oshawa’s mayor and deputy mayor are calling on senior levels of government to address the ongoing opioid crisis.

Mayor Dan Carter and Ward 3 regional and city councillor Bob Chapman are asking the federal and provincial governments to declare crisis as national health epidemic.

At the most recent health and social services committee meeting, Chapman and Carter presented their case.

In their motion, Carter and Chapman hope for the province and federal government to take the issue more seriously, taking note of several recommendations from the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO).

One recommendation has the province publicly confirming the seriousness of the opioid overdose emergency.

AMO hopes the province will “commit to take all necessary measures to save lives and prevent harm.”

But Carter and Chapman are also asking for the federal government to also join in the efforts.

The motion presented asked “That the Government of Canada and Ontario recognize, acknowledge and declare a national health epidemic in respect to the opioid overdose emergency across Canada.”

They have also asked the recommendations from AMO be endorsed, while also urging the province to continue funding the work of public health units addressing the opioid crisis.

Carter and Chapman both note the crisis is not limited to major urban centres.

They hope federal and provincial representatives work with the region “to develop and fund a full-suite of prevention and addiction services, affordable social and supportive housing to address the crisis in our communities.”

Carter expressed his disappointment to the committee with what he perceives as inaction.

“My frustration is not only a frustration, but an anger,” said Carter. “Because… this health epidemic is… taking thousands of Canadian lives.”

The mayor acknowledges there are those trying to find the “right thing to do.”

“But it frustrates me [that] through this campaign period that I have not heard somebody stand up and say, ‘It is not acceptable for 5,000 Canadians to lose their lives this year, last year, and the years moving forward.’”

He believes the issue doesn’t only encompass opioids, but also poverty, housing, and income.

“The willingness to sit idly by and do nothing is unacceptable by the Region of Durham, and our senior leadership team is saying the exact same thing,” said Carter. “They’re saying we will not sit by while we wait until the provincial or federal governments say there’s something wrong.”

He credits staff at the region with being willing to try new things.

“To the credit of [Dr. Robert Kyle, Durham’s commissioner and medical officer of health], and [Region of Durham Paramedic Services Chief Troy Cheseboro] and our social services, they did that when we put the primary care outreach program out… It shouldn’t be funded by us, it should be funded by the LHINs.”

Carter said even to this day, there still hasn’t been any offers of support.

“So it shows me we have to do absolutely everything,” he said. “But saying, acknowledging, and declaring that we have a national health crisis on our forefront, is absolutely necessary, because this story cannot leave the front pages of our newscasts, of our newspapers, or our magazines, until we start seeing not only the death rate decrease, but we start addressing the complexities of what’s going on in society today.”

Carter then asked for the committee’s full support, and called the region to contact the province and federal governments to make sure MPs and MPPs understand the motion.

“[They will say] ‘Do you understand what’s going on, and do you understand how it’s affecting our community, and do you understand you can no longer idly sit by on the sidelines and occasionally address this issue? We need you on board, advocating, educating, [and] empowering people to come up with solutions,’” said Carter.

Whitby councillor Elizabeth Roy lent her support behind the motion, but worried not every councillor will understand the true scope of the opioid crisis.

“I could say, not only from our perspective of being at the regional council component, that the majority of us don’t have an understanding of what is taking place, except for what is being presented to us,” said Roy.

Regional chair John Henry spoke in favour of the motion.

“I agree with Mayor Carter, we should go to all our MPs and MPPs,” said Henry. “We represent, collectively in this group, all seven federal and provincial ridings. We could task each member of committee to meet with the federal and provincial representatives.”

He also reflected on what’s been done – or hasn’t been done – about opioids since he was younger.

“Being older… if you think back, there was a time in 1970 when television didn’t go against the norm – you couldn’t even swear,” said Henry. “But in 1970, [Johnny Cash] went on a bit of a rant …, and he talked about the opioid crisis of 1970, and the challenge of a crisis where it isn’t just the young. He sent that message and he called it a crisis… I don’t believe that we have gone any farther than we did back then.”

Henry was referring to a speech given by Cash, a country music star, before singing his song “The Junkie’s Prayer.”

Chapman believes every member of the committee is passionate and wants to take action.

“All of us want to see the right thing done,” he said.

But, he believes there has not been enough media coverage of the crisis.

“What have you seen in the last number of days with the federal election? What has been the big items?” he asked the committee. “We’re talking about things that have fewer deaths in Canada than this crisis has.”

Chapman singles out gun control,  stating while he believes there needs to appropriate laws, there are less murders across Canada than people dying from the opioid crisis.

“You can pick up a whole other pile of accidents that people get focused on, and say we’ve got to do something about these accidents,” said Chapman.

He hopes to work with the media to further highlight the issues surrounding the opioid crisis.

Chapman believes the motion is a “poke in the right direction.”

“No longer will our Canadian politeness do the trick, I think we have to be a lot more demanding in regards to what our expectations are… in regards to this national health epidemic,” said Carter.

After unanimous support, the motion will now head to regional council for approval.