Federal health minister talks legalization, injection sites

The Courier spoke to Jane Philpott by telephone last week

12th and Cambie

It's always nice to hear from the person in charge when you have questions about what he or she is going to do to address a problem affecting a large number of people.

You may not always like the answers — or get a straight answer, for that matter — but still, it's something, right?

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That person in charge: Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott

The problem — more of an epidemic, really: the overdose death crisis that killed 922 people in 2016, not the widely reported 914 as yours truly and others have written for more than a month. (Toxicology test results of suspected drug overdose victims continue to confirm more bad news.)

Last week, I managed to get 13 minutes with Philpott. She was on the phone from Ottawa; I was at my desk in Vancouver. I happened to conduct the interview on the same day that hundreds of people from coast to coast took to the streets to call attention to the overdose crisis.

For those of you who read the Courier online, you may have come across the story in which I quoted Philpott a couple of times. I should also tell you drug activists were quoted, as was Mayor Gregor Robertson.

Give it a read right here.

The minister had a lot to say and, of course, I couldn't get all of it in the story. So I thought I would give you a bit more. You can judge for yourself whether you think she's on top of this file.

On legalization and regulation of all drugs:

"I’ve said before that we need to make use of every available mechanism to respond to the crisis. So one of the things that we did, for example, was I took action last spring to begin the process of overturning a ban on access to prescription diacetylmorphine, which is heroin. The previous government had put a ban on that, even though there was evidence based on the work of a couple of significant trials — that it was a helpful tool to treating people with severe addiction. So we went through the regulatory process and, as of September, it is now available again to be used under the special access program."

On allowing the B.C. health ministry to go ahead and set up "overdose prevention sites" in the province — without an exemption under the country's drug laws:

“Extraordinary challenges call for extraordinary measures, and we are working hard with provinces and municipalities to make sure that facilities are available, and that we provide appropriate exemptions along the way. There’s work that’s underway at the federal level right now to change the requirements for formally providing an exemption for supervised consumption sites. As we deal with that, clearly people are doing what’s necessary to stay alive."

On criticisms that finger-wagging among politicians is slowing response to the country's drug use problem:

"Remember a year ago, you had to have a prescription for naloxone. So I very quickly changed that. We also ordered an emergency shipment of naloxone nasal spray. I did an expedited review for naloxone nasal spray. I gave an approval to the Dr. Peter Centre [which has a three-booth injection room], I gave a four-year approval to Insite. We are in the process of changing the law [Bill C-37] around supervised consumption sites. It's not about pointing fingers. We are absolutely pressed with this, we are aware of what needs to be done and I have said to every other level of government, 'Let me know what you think we need to do.' It's my goal to respond to every single recommendation of what we can do at the federal level."

Over to you reader — do you like her answers?

mhowell@vancourier.com

@Howellings

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