Hundreds of doctors, nurses and other front-line addictions workers are calling on the provincial government to declare a state of emergency over the number of opioid overdoses in Ontario.
The request is in an open letter that organizers plan to deliver at Queen's Park on Monday.
"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," says the letter, which organizers say is signed by over 700 doctors, nurses, front-line harm-reduction workers and academics from all over Ontario.
"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systems have been severely limited in their ability to adequately respond as a result of limited resources and poor and outdated data that have prevented swift, safe, and effective program developments for this emergency," it continues. "The consequences have been clear: lives lost, families destroyed and harm reduction and health-care worker burnout."
The letter says the health-care workers "lament the lack of clear, decisive, effective and evidence-based action by the Province."
Alexander Caudarella, an addiction family physician and lecturer at the University of Toronto, organized the open letter and says declaring a statement of emergency would accomplish both symbolic and practical goals.
"It sends a message to families, to our patients and clients that they're lives have value, it sends a message that the government cares and sees this for what it is, an emergency," Caudarella said. "In a much more practical sense, what this will accomplish is it will open up funding and speed that we haven't seen in this crisis so far."
Caudarella said front-line health-care workers who are dealing with the opioid crisis are burnt out and more harm reduction programs in more areas, with more workers, are needed, particularly in smaller centres outside of Toronto.
The letter is response to what appears to be increases in overdoses in recent weeks and months, he said.
The province's data on opioid overdoses shows a sharp uptick in emergency department visits in 2017, the most recent data on fatalities is over a year old.
"Part of the problem has always been that the data in the province has always been poor and late," Caudarella said. "The province has made some efforts to improve this, but part of an emergency response would be to get a better sense of where exactly the problem spots are."
Health-care workers are burning out and they've become afraid of going into work, and are always afraid that when they see their patients it will be for the last time.
Caudarella said those are risk of dying include Ontario's most vulnerable populations, including young adults and teenagers, as well as those who aren't normally seen as at risk
"There's been a terrifying reality that having a job, having a family, these things will not protect you," he said.
-File photo by Andrew Francis Wallace/Toronto Star