Canada drug crisis: Minister calls for federal help

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Mitch Horne says the crisis is hitting the nation’s North

Former Conservative minister Mitch Horne has called on the Canadian government to play a bigger role in trying to tackle the country’s drug crisis.

Mr Horne, MP for Orillia, Ontario, was a health minister in the 1980s. He has also chaired the Standing Committee on Human Resources and Social Development.

In an interview, he said Ottawa should send federal resources to individual regions to address the issue.

But he said health professionals around the country had a key role to play.

Mr Horne, 61, said drug addiction was a crisis that was hitting small towns, making the opioid crisis the worst he had seen since his early days as a health ministry official.

‘I didn’t think I’d ever have to say ‘come and take me home’

“If you actually look at what the government of Canada has done, they’ve made pretty good headlines,” he said.

“But I didn’t think I’d ever have to say, ‘come and take me home’.

“Because this will be personally devastating and it’s going to reach everybody in the province.”

A retired trade union leader, Mr Horne said the federal government must “stand up and lead” and he wanted Ottawa to provide more funding to the provinces and territories.

He said that the federal government – which has a budget of more than C$35bn (£22bn) a year – should send money for each hospital in every province and territory, so that there were beds in regional health authorities.

“In large metropolitan areas there will be beds, but there are not enough in the provinces,” he said.

Irene Chan, an author and BBC Panorama reporter who has covered the drug epidemic and been investigating deaths from drug overdoses in the North, says that while the trend is clear, there is a disconnect between the public and what is going on.

She said he Ottawa needed to help communities understand what is going on and that reporting on deaths needed to get “more serious”.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Councillor Laurence German is trying to help residents of Val-d’Or, a city in Canada’s north, who are sick of seeing the issue take a toll on their neighbourhoods

“There is a sense that Ottawa has dropped the ball on the issue,” she said.

“There is also a question of whether Ottawa can do more.

“The province of Ontario was really proactive in trying to find a way to get this under control but right now, many of the drugs are coming in from outside.”

In Val-d’Or, a city in the Far North of Canada, the drug crisis has taken a toll on families, including Mitch Horne’s.

His friend Ray Stirling passed away in 2015, leaving behind a son who is now grappling with addiction.

“Everybody would tell you, ‘That’s a human’, but that is the way the world now – that’s the way it is,” Mr Horne said.

“What we need to do is get it under control.”

The Ontario legislature has passed a resolution calling on the federal government to declare a public health emergency, and the province is making “significant” investments in people who work in the health and housing fields.

But though there have been some positive signs, Mr Horne believes it will take a long time before things get better for many.

As he looked out his room at a Val-d’Or hotel, he said the problems cannot be fixed with the “lipstick and mascara” approach to fix the epidemic, but with words and actions.

He said: “But the great Canadian thing is ‘to thine own self be true’. And that’s what we all need to do now.”

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