More than 700 health care workers are calling on Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne in an open letter to declare a provincial emergency due to a “disturbing” increase in overdose deaths related to opioid use in the province in recent months.
Among those who signed the letter include harm reduction workers, nurses, doctors and academics from 59 towns and cities in Ontario. The signatories come from Southern and Northern Ontario.
The letter is addressed to Wynne, Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins, federal Health Minister Jane Philpott, Ontario coroner Dirk Huyer, David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical health officer and provincial overdose co-ordinator, and Peter Donnelly, president of Public Health Ontario and Ontario Lt.-Gov. Elizabeth Dowdeswell.
“For months, front-line harm reduction workers and healthcare professionals have noted a disturbing and sustained increase in non-fatal and fatal overdoses amongst people who use drugs,” the letter reads.
“Our healthcare and public health systems have been severely limited in their ability to adequately respond as a result of limited resources and poor and outdated data that have prevented swift, safe and effective program developments for this emergency.
“The consequences have been clear: lives lost, families destroyed and harm reduction and healthworker burnout.”
The letter says the Ontario government could declare an emergency under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act and such a move would enable harm reduction workers, public health, primary care, addictions medicine, psychiatry and internal medicine teams to develop responses to the rising numbers of deaths.
According to a news release, the latest data available for Ontario indicates that two people died of opioid-related overdoses each day in mid-2016. The date shows a rise in many regions of the province in the number of emergency department visits and of overdoses attributed to fentanyl.
A group of health care workers is expected to deliver the letter to the front steps of Queen’s Park on Monday.