Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today in support of Bill C-307 to give the Minister of Health the authority to require tamper-resistant forms of drugs that are being tampered with and then used for criminal use.
Canada is in the midst of a massive public health crisis related to opioids. Codeine, fentanyl, oxycodone, hydrocodone, and morphine have become household names, it seems, in the Canadian public, and of course this has a lot to do with the crisis at hand.
Whether it is diverted pharmaceuticals, fentanyl purchased over the Internet from China, or stolen horse tranquillizers, dangerous and lethal opioids are making their way onto the streets of Canada and the consequences are fatal.
The most alarming thing is how quickly opioids are growing, both in use and in the number of overdoses. To put things in perspective, the chief coroner of British Columbia told us at the health committee that illicit drug deaths involving fentanyl increased from 5% in 2012 to 60% in 2016.
This is not just a crisis that affects those who find themselves without a home. There are 55,000 Canadian high-school students who reported in September 2016 that they had abused some sort of opioid pain reliever in the past year.
In Ontario, in 2010, one in eight deaths of individuals aged 25 to 34 was found to be opioid-related. Families are being destroyed; lives are being lost; and all Canadians are experiencing reduced access to health and social services because of the resources required to look after this crisis.
For me, this public emergency hits close to home. Lethbridge is near the epicentre of this epidemic in Canada. Last fall, five men in my riding were arrested for possessing just over 1,000 fentanyl pills destined for the streets of Lethbridge. Several subsequent arrests resulted in police recovering hundreds more fentanyl-laced pills.
What has this meant for Lethbridge? Without being alarmist, we have seen organized crime in our city increase drastically, and the users of these drugs have made parts of Lethbridge no-go zones. There is a playground in my community where children used to enjoy playing regularly, and now it is known as "needle park". This is a place where children no longer play and parents no longer feel safe, because of the needles that are left on the ground.
Even for those not in direct proximity to drug dealers or opioid users, the effects of this epidemic are still felt. In Lethbridge, our first responders have all had to divert significant resources to address this crisis. This means that other crimes committed within our community are under-investigated or not investigated at all.
It also means that EMS responders are increasingly overworked as they respond to the spike in drug overdoses. It means that firefighters have to deal with increased risks when they respond to residential fires for fear that they could be dealing with a contaminated illicit drug lab or equipment thereof.
This is to say nothing of the increased burden on our social service agencies. Lethbridge has punched far above its weight when it comes to the Syrian refugees who have come into our community. This influx of refugees has stretched our resources to the max because of the lack of support from the Liberal government.
Many of these organizations have had to punch above their weight and are now starting to reach their breaking point. This is on top of the opioid crisis and the mental health crisis that results from the jobs crisis in Alberta.
My heart goes out to the mental health workers in my community for the remarkable work they are doing around the clock and the way they are trying to divert this issue. This crisis has a human face, as sons, daughters, husbands, wives, cousins, brothers, and sisters are all lost to lethal street drugs laced with these opioids. I recognize that the opioid crisis is multi-faceted, but Bill C-307 is one key step to cutting it off at the source.
Criminal enterprises have far too easy a time diverting legitimate pharmaceuticals to illicit street drugs. This is because the most common forms of opioid-based drugs are easily manipulated. Prescription pills can be ground down to snort, or the active opioid compounds can be extracted and used as a building block for different street drugs.
Tamper-resistant forms of these pharmaceuticals can take several forms to reduce the ability to manipulate and extract the drug. The physical properties of the pill can be used to make manipulation much more difficult, such as providing a drug that cannot be altered without neutralizing the opioid compounds, or a chemical can be included that counteracts the euphoric effect of the opioid if the drug is manipulated, either by grinding or by heating it, making the drug useless to street providers.
In June 2014, our previous Conservative government provided a notice of intent to industry. We announced that new regulations were coming that would require tamper-resistant formulations of specific controlled substances such as oxycodone. The intent of the former Conservative government was to reduce the diversion of opioids for illicit purposes to keep them off the streets. Sadly, the current government chose to overturn this decision, which has now had failed consequences on Canadians from coast to coast.
One youth who I had the chance to talk to in my riding took the opportunity to brag to me that he was taking his prescription drugs and selling them for $25 a pill. His chronic pain allows him lifetime access to these pills and it now serves as his main source of income.
Diverting these drugs to the illegal markets can be stopped. If we can stop this illicit secondary market for illegal pharmaceuticals, it will decrease one of the sources that make these street drugs so accessible.
I will be the first to admit that this is a complex issue and that this one change will not solve the entire problem. There are a whole host of changes required in order to stop opioids from ending up on our streets. Canada's physicians need to overhaul prescribing practices for opioids. Reducing the number of people with legal access to these drugs will also decrease the number of Canadians using illegal alternatives after their prescriptions end.
Furthermore, I am pleased to note that the government has taken a recommendation from Conservative members to now allow the Canada Border Services Agency to check packages smaller than 30 grams. This decision came out of a report that was written by health committee. The fact that this could not be done before allowed an unlimited supply of fentanyl to be mailed in small packages and enter our country so it could be sold on the street market.
I am also pleased the Liberals listened to health committee on the need to regulate pill press machines. These machines allow the toxic and deadly mishmash of chemicals in these street drugs to be pressed into professional-looking products that can easily be packaged and shipped. The new import controls on pill press machines is a good start, although more could be done.
Finally, we need to tackle the source of this problem at the root, which is the lack of treatment options for those who suffer from mental health problems. This makes them susceptible to using street drugs in the first place.
If the ongoing mental health crisis is allowed to continue in our city cores, on our reserves, and in our schools and universities, the drug crisis in our country will only continue to grow. The money in budget 2017 with regard to this issue is a good start, but a national strategy and further initiative is a must when it comes to mental health care in Canada.
Whether it is fentanyl, crystal meth, or the next street drug that is easily produced and cheap to buy, at the heart of all of these drug uses, this epidemic that we face, are people who are emotionally hurting. This is why the human face of this epidemic is so heartbreaking to acknowledge. These are vulnerable people who have chosen drugs because they do not have the support and necessary tools to take on life.
This is why I ask all members of the House to understand the further pain that opioids cause to Canadian families and to individuals. I ask members opposite to support this important legislation, Bill C-307.