Today the White House based Office of National Drug Control (ONCDP) released a letter in honour of International Overdose Awareness Day (August 31st). The take home message of the letter emphasizes Obama’s support for overdose initiatives and announces the release of the new toolkit on opioid overdose. As the letter states:
“This toolkit builds upon our efforts to expand prevention and treatment. It also promotes the use of naloxone, a life-saving overdose reversal drug which we believe should be in the patrol cars of every law enforcement professional across the nation. Please join us in spreading the word about overdose prevention by sharing a link to this toolkit on your social media platforms.”
Let’s be clear about one thing: in the slow-moving world of drug policy reform, this is a major step forward. Prior U.S. administrations condemned the use of naloxone to treat opioid overdoses and this one supports it use. In fact, check out the outgoing head of the ONDCP Gil Kerlikowske’s interview with the Washington Post. Kerlikowske mentions the importance of naloxone in this interview and talks about the necessity of evidence-based drug policy reform. This interview comes on the heel’s of yesterday’s announcement that the U.S. Federal government will allow marijuana legalization laws to proceed in Colorado and Washington.
I don’t want to romanticize the US approach. That government still supports Plan Colombia, an expensive and wasted effort to eradicate coca growing. But change is definitely in the air.
Unfortunately, the Canadian federal government is nowhere near making similar pronouncements or providing any sort of open support for overdose prevention and treatment initiatives. The CDPC has written to Health Minister Rona Ambrose to emphasize the need for a national overdose strategy that includes harm reduction approaches like take-away naloxone programs. These programs train overdose witnesses to respond effectively to overdose and to prevent them from occurring in the future.
The math is simple on this one – these programs save lives, so why I ask is Canada now falling behind the US on these initiatives? International Overdose Awareness Day is an opportunity to honour those we’ve lost to overdose but it’s also a time to reflect on how we can do better in Canada.