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Ontario to call mayors’ meeting on opioid crisis

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne speaks during a news conference in Toronto on March 2, 2017.

Frank Gunn/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Ontario will soon call a meeting of mayors from both large and small communities across the province as it looks for ways to tackle a growing opioid crisis.

Premier Kathleen Wynne made the announcement Monday after meeting with Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, adding that the province is prepared to fund that city's $2.5-million opioid plan.

"There have been tragedies in Ottawa and recently a very tragic death, so we are going to work with him to make sure he has those resources to put his plan in place," she said.

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Fourteen-year-old Chloe Kotval died last month in Ottawa after taking a drug of unknown origin.

Ottawa Public Health and Ottawa Police issued an alert last month about counterfeit prescription drugs and their involvement in recent overdoses, noting illicit fentanyl has been detected in pills manufactured to mimic other drugs, such as Percocet. Fentanyl is fatal in very small amounts.

Ottawa is looking to add more detox spaces, more treatment spaces and equip police and firefighters with the overdose-reversing drug naloxone, Watson said.

"I want to thank the premier for agreeing to call mayors together of not just big cities, because there are smaller cities and smaller municipalities that are grappling with this terrible tragedy of young people becoming addicted, not having the necessary detox capacity or treatment facilities, and literally people dying every week in the province of Ontario," he said.

Ottawa's plan can form the basis of a conversation on how the province can support municipal strategies for dealing with deaths and overdoses, Wynne said.

"The work that Ottawa has done, I think, could inform a conversation about how we might as a province support local plans," she said. "We have a provincial plan in place and the gathering of data and the tracking of usage, all of that is very, very important data. At the same time, we know that there will need to be local plans."

Ontario's opioid strategy looks to expand harm-reduction services, make changes to prescribing and dispensing and improve data collection. In 2014, more than 700 people in the province died from opioid-related causes, the government has said.

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Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins said the province has been discussing the issue with several municipalities recently, and setting up a meeting or an ongoing task force would be a "next step," he said. Ontario has also committed to fund three supervised injection sites in Toronto and one in Ottawa

Progressive Conservative Lisa MacLeod, who represents an Ottawa riding, has been calling for a task force that includes various ministries such as Education, Health, Correctional Services, Community and Social Services as well as Children and Youth.

She has been talking to parents about the crisis, she said, warning them these are not the drugs that were around when they were in high school.

"We are right now in Ottawa dealing with this and it has come as a big surprise to many mothers and fathers," she said.

"I think that there's a lot of opportunity here for people of different levels of government and different departments within government to work together in order to protect our children. There's a lot of low-hanging fruit like getting these naloxone kits into the right hands."

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