Nova Scotia’s fight against Canada’s growing opioid crisis is showing notable progress, the province’s chief medical officer says.
Dr. Robert Strang told a news conference Friday that the number of opioid overdose deaths in Nova Scotia has remained stable in the past year, which is considered a success in a country where the number of accidental opioid-related deaths continues to rise.
“The fact that we’re not increasing is an indication of the positive impact of the work we’re doing and the investments made,” Strang said in an interview. “Our initial investment in harm reduction is making a difference.”
Between January and August of this year, there were 38 probable or confirmed opioid overdose deaths in the province, a figure that is in line with the average since 2011, Strang said. There were 63 opioid-related deaths in 2017.
Across Canada, there were 3,671 accidental apparent opioid-related deaths in 2017, according to the latest federal figures. That represents a 40 per cent increase when compared with the previous year.
The problem is particularly acute in British Columbia, where the per capita rate is three times the national average. There were 1,399 opioid-related deaths reported in B.C. in 2017, up from 974 in 2016.
The British Columbia government declared a public health emergency in 2016.
“Our problem in Nova Scotia is not to that extent,” said Strang.
Nova Scotia’s issue is mainly with misuse of prescription drugs rather than street drugs.
“But we are starting to see greater indications of illicit opioids in our street drug supply, but not to the same extent as other parts of the country,” he said.
Strang said the Nova Scotia government has committed stable, annual funding to combat the problem, which has resulted in the opening of three new treatment centres, a substantial increase in the number of people receiving treatment, and reduced waiting lists and wait times.
In fact, there is no longer a waiting list for treatment in the Halifax area, he said, adding that the wait times in rural areas have been reduced to days instead of weeks.
The province has also distributed 5,000 take-home naloxone kits to at-risk Nova Scotians and their families. Naloxone is a life-saving medication that can stop or reverse an opioid overdose.
To date, the province has received reports that 90 of the kits have been used to save people from opioid overdoses.
“Those were the only ones that were reported,” Strang said. “I think it’s safe to say there were probably more that weren’t reported.”
Earlier this week, the British Columbia government filed a proposed class-action lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies in an attempt to recoup the costs associated with opioid addiction.
The lawsuit names 40 defendants, including OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma. None of the allegations made in the lawsuit has been proven in court.
Last month, New Brunswick said it was considering launching or joining a similar lawsuit, and in March a Saskatchewan judge rejected a $20-million national settlement against Purdue Pharma (Canada), saying it was inadequate.
Meanwhile, Nova Scotia is considering its options.
“That’s something that we’ll be looking at, in collaboration with other provincial and territorial governments,” Strang said.
In the U.S., drugmakers are facing hundreds of lawsuits from governments claiming the companies played a role in sparking opioid overdose crisis that killed 42,000 Americans in 2016.