Advocacy group ‘disappointed’ in Nova Scotia’s handling of opioid education

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Advocacy groups not giving up on push for changes to N.S. opioid education
WATCH: An advocacy group on illicit opioids says it’s disappointed in Nova Scotia’s response to calls for change. As Marieke Walsh reports, the groups says the government’s response falls short but they’re not giving up hope – Oct 12, 2017

A Canadian advocacy group says it is disappointed in the government’s response to calls for an updated curriculum on substance-use.

Get Prescription Drugs Off the Streets Society (GPDOTS) sent a letter to Education Minister Zach Churchill on Sept. 5 calling on Nova Scotia to update curriculum that the group says has gone stale since the illicit opioid crisis spread across Canada.

The group is calling on the province to expand its teaching from prevention and avoiding drug use to information about how to reduce risks if someone decides to take drugs.

READ MORE: Nova Scotia prepares to battle rising threat of fentanyl

For example, it is calling on Nova Scotia to include information about illicit opioids such as fentanyl and carfentanil, how to use the overdose antidote naloxone, and what the recently passed Good Samaritan Act means for people who might witness an overdose.

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More than a month after the letter was sent, the group received a response from Churchill on Wednesday that it says falls short.

“GPDOTS is disappointed to hear the government is making no commitment to implement any of our recommendations,” president Amy Graves said in a statement.

But she said she’s “pleased” that the province agreed to more discussions about their recommendations next week.

The letter signed by Churchill says the province is in the midst of reviewing the healthy living curriculum for Grades 4-8.

WATCH: Nova Scotia suspected fentanyl overdoses spike in 2016

Click to play video: 'Nova Scotia suspected fentanyl overdoses spike in 2016'
Nova Scotia suspected fentanyl overdoses spike in 2016

The group says Churchill’s response emphasizes the same focus on prevention rather than talking about harm reduction in drug use.

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“We are focused on building coping and resiliency skills to help prevent students from turning to substances to cope with life stressors,” the letter from Churchill reads.

In an interview with Global News, Churchill said he won’t rule out the recommendations from GPDOTS. Calling their suggestions “very good advice” and adding that his department will give them “full consideration.”

A graph shows the number of overdose deaths in Nova Scotia from 2011 to 2016. Global News

‘Respond in a way that is appropriate to respond to a crisis’: GPDOTS

Just prior to receiving the letter from Churchill, GPDOTS vice-president Robert Mulloy called on the government to “respond in a way that is appropriate to respond to a crisis.”

Pointing to the month-long delay in rolling out free naloxone to Nova Scotia pharmacies and the long wait to get a response to the group’s letter calling for curriculum changes, Mulloy said the government needs to act faster.

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READ MORE: Nova Scotia pharmacies to begin offering free naloxone kits to counter opioid overdoses

“Not delayed responses but urgent responses and put the time and resources in to making the changes that are necessary to protect the public,” he said.

Churchill said its normal for it to take three weeks to a month for correspondence to land on his desk. Adding that his department gets an “extremely high volume of correspondence.”

The group is pushing for the province’s curriculum to go beyond talking about avoiding drugs to also talk about how to reduce the risks of drug use prior to Grade 9.

“The reality is that students do use substances, they do experiment and the current availability of drugs on the street is very dangerous,” Mulloy said.

GPDOTS points to the province’s own drug survey from 2013 that showed four per cent of Grade 7 students used non-medical pain pills, increasing over the years to 16.4 per cent in Grade 12.

“They need to be informed of the dangers and they need to be informed of what’s available if themselves or another student gets in trouble,” he said.

Churchill said his department still has to follow protocol on the curriculum review to make sure the material is “developmentally appropriate for our students and to make sure its going to have the impact that we want.”

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Even if illicit opioids like fentanyl and carfentanil get more attention in the new curriculum, the government said it will take another two years before its rolled out in classrooms across the province.

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