Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak in support of Bill C-224, the good Samaritan drug overdose act. I thank the member for Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam for presenting this important piece of legislation. He has certainly worked very hard.
When I first read through the bill, I have to admit that I was a bit concerned. We are currently facing one of the worst drug epidemics that our nation has ever seen, and that is with regard to the opioid crisis. The combination of diverted pharmaceuticals, veterinary tranquillizers, and illicit drugs has created a very deadly mix of street drugs.
This past week in my riding of Lethbridge, 777 fentanyl pills were seized by the police in two separate drug raids. This is impacting every single nook and cranny within my community.
Having said that, many Canadians would agree that we need to tackle the root factors that are causing this epidemic. I agree with that. This is why we definitely need tougher laws to get drug dealers off the streets, and certainly not weaker ones. This legislation is part of a multipronged approach that should be taken in all communities across this country.
As a member of the Standing Committee on Health, I had the opportunity to examine the bill closely, and I heard from many expert witnesses from all corners of the country. Regardless of the geographical region or the sector from which they came, all of them agreed that Bill C-224 would save lives.
How exactly would this legislation do that? At the present time, when someone overdoses, there are barriers to that individual getting help quickly. For instance, young people often experiment with drugs with friends and family. In the event of an overdose, those who are with the person are often scared to call for help because they are afraid of the legal repercussions. As a result, they either do nothing, or they call 911 and then quickly flee the scene so they will not be prosecuted. As a result of this fear, young lives are lost.
When I was first made aware of this piece of legislation, I was concerned that it might allow dealers to go free or prevent police from being able to take action to shut down crack houses or illicit drug operations. After listening to the legal experts, it became clear that the bill would not provide another legal loophole for drug dealers to escape conviction. The exemptions provided in the bill only apply to those who are in simple possession.
Criminal Code offences, such as possession for the purpose of trafficking, would still apply to individuals at the scene of an overdose. Why is this important? It is important because it means that this legislation finds a balance between removing barriers to individuals having the courage to call 911, as well as preserving the power of law enforcement to convict criminals responsible for pushing these drugs on our streets. We see more than ever the organized crime rates in Canada, so it is important for me to discuss this. Again, the specific exemption within this legislation would apply to simple possession only. In this context, only those using the illicit drug, and not those who are trafficking the drug, would be exempt.
One of the heartbreaking stories we heard during my time on committee studying this legislation was from a mother who lost her 17-year-old son to an overdose. He was hanging out with his friends. There were about six people around him at the time, and they refused to call for medical assistance because they were afraid of the negative repercussions they might face. As a result, this young man's life was lost that day.
When it comes to opioid overdoses, there are simple and effective treatments such as naloxone, which can halt the effects of the opioid long enough to get a patient to hospital to receive the attention he or she needs. With the strength of illicit opioids, minutes matter in this endeavour. A few minutes can help spare a life. If bystanders were to wait for those few minutes to determine if an overdose was mild or life-threatening, that indecision could result in that person losing his or her life.
This is particularly true of young recreational drug users who have more to lose because of police involvement in an overdose. Young people who are experimenting with illegal drugs are more likely to try to keep their involvement with them a secret. As expert witnesses at committee repeatedly stressed, it is easier to deal with a drug addiction at the start of the addiction rather than caring for it later on.
Bill C-224 has the ability to facilitate early intervention and access to treatment, which I believe would serve our younger generation very well.
For addicts who are housing insecure or altogether homeless, the bill would simply puts in place what would already be common practice in many jurisdictions, and that is this. When front-line workers are called to an overdose situation, what often happens is the EMS will respond right away in order to care for that individual. Police officers will often hold back rather than going into the scene. The reason for this is because they will enter if there is a threat to medical staff or to the staff on site, let us say at a shelter. However, for r the most part they will hold back. The reason for that is because then it creates safety for concerned individuals to call EMS responders to the scene to react to the overdose.
Right now Canada is facing a significant crisis when it comes to deaths caused by opioid overdoses. In B.C., for example, the situation is so serious that public health within B.C. has declared a state of emergency. The truth is that we have been aware of this problem for a little more than a year now across our country, but there has been very little discernible action from the federal government on this file. At health committee, it was the NDP as well as the Conservatives at the table who put forward the motion to study the opioid crisis in Canada and to deliver recommendations to the health minister for consideration.
No steps have been taken to limit the import and the operation of pill press machines in Canada that enable criminal organizations to pump out hundreds of thousands of oxycodone knock-offs on a daily, monthly, and annual basis. The Liberal government reversed the Conservative regulations to move Canada toward a tamper-resistant prescription opioid, which is a very unfortunate decision. By reversing this direction, the Liberals allowed the easy conversion of legal pharmaceuticals to be used in a variety of street drugs, thus adding to the problem that we see today.
It took until last month for Health Canada to finally make naloxone a non-prescription drug and therefore accessible across Canada. Even after doing that, the provinces still need a few more months to loosen up their own restrictions to have this antidote make a real difference within streets.
The health minister finally decided that she would hold an opioid summit in mid-November. Although I am very thankful that this decision has been made, I am also disappointed with the amount of time it has taken just to achieve this. We do not need to wait for a summit this fall in order to start taking action on this file. We already know that border controls need to be ramped up. We know that Health Canada needs to make regulatory changes to limit prescription opioids that could easily be tampered with. We also know that stricter prescribing as well as tracking practices need to be implemented. We know that the over-prescribing of opioids on reserves needs to be addressed. We also need to provide treatment care for those who wish to get off of these addictions.
There is a saying on a reserve near my riding, which is “The drug dealers wear white coats”. This is made in reference to the availability of legal prescription opioids from doctors. The devastating effect this has for persons susceptible to drug abuse is tremendous. Dozens of people are dying each and every month. Dreams are being shattered. Potential is going unfulfilled and hope is disintegrating altogether.
I would contend that waiting to act on this national crisis is not an option. If we value human life, we must act now. I would contend that this requires a national strategy with regard to the opioid crisis we face in our country today. Bill C-224 is just one step, one very small step, in the massive puzzle that is needed to be put together in order to tackle this problem.