Madam Speaker, I rise today to speak in support of Bill C-224, the good Samaritan drug overdose act. I thank the member for Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam for introducing this important piece of legislation.
In my riding of Edmonton West, similar to many parts of the country, we have seen a growing crisis with fentanyl and opioid use. According to the CBC, there have been 338 deaths from fentanyl overdoses in Alberta alone this year. If we think about that, it is equivalent to every member sitting in the House of Commons being wiped out since January. The numbers continue to rise, with no indication of its slowing down. It has become so bad that even the Alberta Health Services' web page cannot keep track of the number of fentanyl deaths. In Edmonton alone, there have been 102 overdose deaths since January. Even more deadly is the opioid W18, which is now showing up in Edmonton. Ironically, it was created at the U of A, but it is now hitting the streets. Recently, we have had a drug bust with enough W18 to wipe out half of the population if it were taken individually. Drugs like fentanyl and W18 are taking their toll on our cities and communities. Perhaps the most heartbreaking aspect of this crisis is that many untimely deaths could be prevented.
Dr. Charmaine Enns, chair of the Health Officers Council of British Columbia, has said, “Every year, psychoactive substances...are linked to greater than 47,000 deaths and many thousands more injuries and disabilities.... Sadly much of this carnage is preventable.”
I hope no Canadian is prevented from taking action when necessary because they fear the consequences of doing so. It is my hope that if anyone is ever in a situation in which they need to act to save someone's life, they can act without fear of repercussions, to spare a family the agony of losing a loved one, and to be able to act in the best interest of someone who needs help and in the best interests of their community. In a previous career, I experienced this first hand. I was a young hotel manager, and as I was living closest to the hotel, I would often get the first call when there was an emergency. I received a phone call from a frantic night auditor at four in the morning. I went the hotel and found four people suffering from overdoses. One had died. When the police arrived, once the people were revived, they said they had seen their friend writhing and dying but did not contact anyone for fear of being arrested. This is something that is still happening today. Therefore, I support this bill by our member.
As elected officials and lawmakers, we are obligated to take action in areas in which there is a clear and present need. In the case of unreported overdoses, it is my belief that the good Samaritan drug overdose act would fill this legislative gap.
Combatting drug-related crime requires a collaborative approach between municipal, provincial, and federal partners. Together, we must ensure that our levels of governments send a strong message to drug traffickers, while not penalizing users who are at their most vulnerable and in an overdosed state. While this bill will not change the rates of drug-related crime, something that our party has consistently taken a tough, clear stance on, it may help encourage people to take action and call emergency professionals in life-and-death situations, potentially saving the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of Canadians from coast to coast.
As the member for Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam mentioned in committee, as I think has been noted more than once throughout the debate on this bill, there is often a barrier to accessing help in the time needed to prevent a potentially fatal situation due to fear of the consequences or legal ramifications for the person making the call. While these findings are indicative of a separate, albeit related, issue facing Canadians, namely access to banned substances, it is important that our efforts to remain tough on crime and drugs do not come at a human cost. We as lawmakers truly believe that life is worth protecting, and we need to ensure that the Canadians who need help get it.
According to the Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council, “Fear of arrest weighs heavily on this life or death decision. People legitimately fear the police showing up, being criminally charged for drug possession, and for mothers, having their children taken away.” By removing the possibility of criminal charges against those who call emergency professionals, we are encouraging people to take life-saving action. This is especially true now, with deadly fentanyl and W18 on the streets, where ever moment's delay in receiving the miracle drug naloxone can literally lead to death.
On the issue of W18, this drug is reported to be 100 to 1,000 times more deadly than fentanyl. Oddly enough, it is just now being regulated as a controlled drug under the Controlled Drug and Substances Act, and until recently could be manufactured freely. Like others in the House, I would encourage the government to work faster on this and other W series drugs.
I would also urge the government to take steps similar to the Government of Alberta to restrict access to the pill presses used to make illegal drugs. By limiting the purchase of pill presses, table machines, and pharmaceutical mixers to only pharmacists and licensed professionals, we would take the necessary steps as Canadians to protect our communities.
Now as to the bill, it is not, as some critics have said, condoning drug use. This would ensure that drug users and addicts, in some regard the victims of drug trafficking, are provided with support and assurance that their lives still have value, and that a person acting in the injured person's best interest would not be penalized for saving a life.
I am pleased to support the bill and hope my colleagues in the House will support the bill as well.