Madam Speaker, I am proud to stand in the House today at third reading and support Bill C-224, the good Samaritan drug overdose act.
First and foremost, I want to thank the member for Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam for bringing this extremely important piece of legislation to the House. This is a piece of legislation that, if passed, would help to break down systematic barriers that deter people from calling 911 in the event of an overdose.
Evidence indicates that individuals are too often afraid to call for medical help in the event of an overdose. This is due to a number of concerns, one of which is fear of arrest or criminal charges. Bill C-224 would help to address this issue by providing those who experience or witness an overdose, call 911, and stay at the scene with immunity from minor drug possession charges. In other words, Bill C-224 is a harm reduction measure.
Our government is committed to protecting the health and safety of all Canadians. We recognize that problematic substance use can have devastating impacts on individuals, their families, and their communities. This is why our government is taking a balanced, comprehensive, collaborative, compassionate, and evidence-based approach to addressing the serious issue of problematic substance use. It is an approach that aims to protect both public health and public safety.
The term “harm reduction” often elicits strong reactions from people. I believe this is at least partly because it is misunderstood. I would like to take a moment to explain what it means to our government.
In general, harm reduction refers to policies, programs, or initiatives that aim to reduce the negative health and social impacts associated with problematic substance use on individuals and communities, without requiring abstention as an immediate goal. Our government has demonstrated strong support for evidence-based harm reduction measures that have been proven to help prevent the harm associated with problematic substance use, including overdose death.
However, I want to make it clear that this does not mean that harm reduction and abstention are mutually exclusive. In fact, while abstention is not the primary goal of harm reduction initiatives, harm reduction can act as a first step to meeting longer term goals such as reduced problematic use of drugs and full recovery. In other words, harm reduction measures can help pave a path to recovery by meeting people where they are in their lives right now.
Another common myth is that a focus on harm reduction is inconsistent with the objectives of drug control. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is our government's view that harm reduction is part of a comprehensive policy continuum and can complement and reinforce prevention, treatment, and enforcement initiatives. It is part of a holistic approach to addressing drug-related crime and problematic substance use.
Bill C-224 reflects these values. It melds public health and public safety interests and would provide an opportunity for law enforcement to build trusting relationships with individuals who use drugs, relationships that would help to reduce fears of calling 911 to save the life of someone experiencing an overdose.
I do not want to sell Bill C-224 as a solution that would prevent all overdose deaths. It will not. We do no favours to Canadians suffering from addiction when we debate a drug policy in black and white terms. Problematic substance use is a complex issue that requires a comprehensive response. Just like any other drug policy, Bill C-224 must work in conjunction with other initiatives to address the full scope of issues associated with problematic substance use.
That is why our government recently announced a new opioid action plan. The plan focuses on five key areas: better informing Canadians about the risks of opioids, supporting better prescribing practices, reducing easy access to unnecessary opioids, supporting better treatment options for patients, and improving the national evidence base upon which policy decisions are made.
Two of the action items under the plan were an expedited review of naloxone nasal spray, a more user-friendly version of the overdose-reverse drug, as well as an interim order to buy bulk stocks of the drug from the United States during the review process. I am pleased to say that Health Canada has completed its review and has authorized naloxone nasal spray for non-prescription use.
With federal market authorization, the manufacturer is now able to take the necessary steps to bring this drug to the Canadian market. This is a key step in helping to reduce overdose deaths, as the two crucial actions that can be taken to help save a life during an overdose are calling 911 and administering naloxone.
Also, next month the Minister of Health will be hosting a summit on opioids to bring together experts, patient groups, governments, and regulators to discuss the current crisis and identify actions for moving forward.
In conclusion, Bill C-224 supports and complements our government's approach to drug policy and will help save lives. That is why we are supporting this extremely important piece of legislation.
As a registered nurse, I am extremely concerned about the opioid crisis occurring across Canada. We know that addressing this issue will require a comprehensive and evidence-based public health approach. Bill C-224 would be a welcome addition to our government's efforts, and I hope colleagues from all across the House will continue to support it. As many members have already stated, every life matters, and we have a duty to do what we can to help prevent these tragic accidental deaths from taking place.
This is an issue that requires a whole-of-government approach, and we are dedicated to working with our provincial and territorial counterparts, as well as experts across the country, to address this devastating crisis. As a country, we know we are facing an opioid crisis, and together, we will find a way to address this tragic situation.