Canadian mayors launch task force to respond to fentanyl crisis

Big city mayors at the Toronto Housing Summit in September 2016. Peter Kim / Digital Broadcast Journalist

Canada’s Big City Mayors’ Caucus launched a new task force Friday which will have the country’s spiralling opioid crisis in its crosshairs.

According to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the task force is geared towards sharing “front-line experiences and best practices among cities addressing the crisis” and to working with all levels of government to more efficiently coordinate a “full national response.”

READ MORE: Fentanyl overdoses killed hundreds of Canadians this year, experts say 2017 could be deadlier

The task force is chaired by Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson.

“We urgently need a nationwide emergency response as opioid addiction devastates families and communities and overdose deaths reach an even more horrific toll,” he said in a statement.

“In Vancouver, our front-line workers are tireless in their heroic efforts to save lives, but the intensity of overdose response is overwhelming.”

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Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson, who chairs the Big City Mayors’ Caucus, said he hoped to “build a unified solution to this national crisis, working with federal and provincial counterparts to identify best practices, put appropriate resources and services in place and prevent more deaths.

READ MORE: Liberals, NDP try to expedite bill to help combat opioid crisis

“We need strong leadership from federal and provincial governments to coordinate with cities and urgently invest in the solutions to stop the epidemic, including addictions treatment, supportive housing, prevention and drug policy reform,” he said in a statement.

The task force said Friday that two federal cabinet ministers – Health Minister Jane Philpott and Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Minister Ralph Goodale – have already agreed to meet with them “in the near future” and that it hoped to meet with ministers from provinces and territories in the future as well.

Deadly overdoses related to fentanyl and other opioids continue to rise across major Canadian cities. In 2016, B.C. had 914 deadly drug overdoses, 142 in December alone.

READ MORE: 914 overdose deaths in B.C. in 2016: 90% occurred inside

Watch below: In January 2017, Catherine Urquhart took a closer look at how overdose numbers break down across B.C.

Click to play video 'B.C. overdose crisis: 2016 deadliest year on record' B.C. overdose crisis: 2016 deadliest year on record
B.C. overdose crisis: 2016 deadliest year on record – Jan 18, 2017

The other provinces that appear to be hardest hit by the opioid crisis based on available data are Ontario and Alberta.

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READ MORE: A province-by-province look at opioid-overdose stats, including fentanyl

Preliminary numbers from 2015 in Ontario showed 529 “opioid deaths,” 162 of them related to fentanyl.

In Alberta, from Jan. 1, 2016 to Oct. 27, 2016, 338 people died from an apparent drug overdose related to an opioid. Fentanyl was involved in 193 of them.

A number of provinces are making the fentanyl antidote, naloxone, more available in an effort to mitigate the impact of the surging use of opioids.

READ MORE: Calgary firefighters use naloxone kits 45 times in 6 weeks

Watch below: A shocking video has emerged showing a desperate attempt by an RCMP officer to save a man from a fentanyl overdose in Athabasca, Alberta on Sept. 28, 2016.

Click to play video 'Shocking video of RCMP officer taking drastic steps to react to fentanyl overdose' Shocking video of RCMP officer taking drastic steps to react to fentanyl overdose
Shocking video of RCMP officer taking drastic steps to react to fentanyl overdose – Dec 9, 2016

In Calgary, firefighters have been trained to administer the overdose-revival drug and have had to do so more than once a day for the past month.

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The Big City Mayors’ Caucus’ task force is comprised of mayors from 12 cities: Vancouver, Surrey, Edmonton, Calgary, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Hamilton, London, Kitchener, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal.

-With files from The Canadian Press.