September 20, 2017 6:48 pm

Ontario MPPs set to debate bill aimed at regulating pill presses amid opioid crisis

WATCH ABOVE: Ontario's official opposition says the move gives police more power to target a component of the drug trade that contributes to the opioid crisis. Mark Carcasole reports.

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Ontario MPPs are set to debate a private member’s bill aimed at regulating the ownership of pill press machines amid efforts to combat the opioid crisis.

Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Michael Harris first tabled the bill earlier this year. The bill passed first reading in April and will receive its second at Queen’s Park Thursday afternoon.

The machines can be used to make vitamins, but Harris said his bill targets something a little more sinister.

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“We’re talking about organized crime or street drug dealers that are manufacturing illegal counterfeit opiates that, frankly, are laced with fentanyl and they’re killing Canadians.”

The bill would prohibit anyone who is not a pharmacist, or otherwise licensed, from possessing the machines. It would also give police more options for obtaining a search warrant to a property and allow them to lay an extra charge against anyone found using a pill press machine to put narcotics in pill form.

“We as politicians need to provide the tools for law enforcement,” says Harris.

It’s an important measure for 19-year-old Leila Attar of Ottawa. The addictions and mental health advocate has come to Toronto to stand in support of the bill. She herself suffered a fentanyl overdose in November after buying pills from a co-worker she alleged made the pills in such a press.

READ MORE: Pressure builds to ban pill presses to fight drug overdose crisis

She said she thought the pills were percocets until she blacked out.

“I ended up getting up from this comatose state, you could say, and just feeling like you’re so close to being gone and knowing in that moment something was very wrong,” she said.

Attar said the pills made her “violently sick.” She said it took a week for her to fully recover. The next time she went in to work, she said she confronted her dealer.

“I said, ‘Hey man, what was that? That was not normal,’ and I said, ‘Was it laced?'” she recalled.

“He said, ‘Yeah.’ I said, ‘Was it fentanyl?’ He just looked at me, shrugged his shoulders and said, ‘Sorry.'”

READ MORE: Ontario filled more opioid prescriptions than ever before amid overdose ‘crisis’

Attar said she’s been clean since and dedicated the summer to travelling across the country, telling her story and working to save others.

“I spent time volunteering in the downtown east side of Vancouver, talking with advocates and people who have lost their children to opioids.”

Ontario Health Minister Dr. Eric Hoskins said Harris’ bill is a moot point. He said the federal government has already banned the importation of unlicensed machines.

“It’s a little over-simplistic for anybody to suggest that this will have a major impact on the public health crisis that we have with opioids today,” Hoskins said.

READ MORE: New prescription guidelines aim curb growing opioid crisis in Canada

Harris said his motion, similar to one passed by Alberta’s government last year, would double up the level of protection by targeting machines that are already here.

Attar said she agrees with the sentiment.

“You have to chip at all different aspects of it… People are dying and I don’t see a lot of action happening right now,” she said.

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