Future Physicians call upon Government of Canada to strengthen fight against opioid crisis

OTTAWA, Feb. 13, 2017 /CNW/ - The Canadian Federation of Medical Students (CFMS) is bringing tomorrow's physicians to Parliament Hill for its annual National Lobby Day. Medical students from Vancouver to St. John's are meeting today with Members of Parliament and Senators to advocate for a greater focus on upstream approaches to the national opioid crisis.

Canadians are the second highest per capita consumers of prescription opioid drugs in the world. Widespread availability of opioids has led to increasing rates of opioid dependency and a demand for illicit opioids nationwide. In fact, physicians write 53 prescriptions for opioid drugs for every 100 people in the country. These issues have led many to call on the Federal Government to declare a public health emergency, as was done in April last year at the provincial level in British Columbia.

Several factors have exacerbated the growing opioid crisis. These include the scarcity of multidisciplinary pain management centres in rural and suburban communities as well as the lack of resources for treating those with opioid dependency and those with mental illness, the latter being twice as likely to develop substance abuse problems. Finally, the enduring stigma surrounding harm reduction programs impedes their development and contributes to this problem.  

In November 2016, the federal government took its first steps toward national action on the growing opioid crisis with the introduction of Bill C-37. If passed, this bill will reverse a number of barriers put in place by the previous administration to halt the development of harm reduction programs. Specifically, under Bill C-37, community service providers would be required to meet just five application requirements for a safe consumption site, as opposed to the 26 current criteria outlined in the Respect for Communities Act. Medical students strongly support the passing of Bill C-37 and support the development of harm reduction programs as a means to decrease opioid dependence morbidity and mortality.

While this national action is positive and worthy of recognition, the CFMS believes the Federal Government can go further in addressing the upstream causes of the opioid crisis. Inadequate access to effective treatment for chronic pain, including non-pharmacological options, and a lack of understanding of the complex interactions between mental illness and substance misuse are two areas where further action is necessary. Therefore, in addressing the national opioid crisis, the CFMS is calling on the Government of Canada to prioritize the following:

a.    Increased access to multidisciplinary chronic pain centres by supporting provincial/territorial efforts to develop these programs.  

b.    Continue to invest in mental health programs and research to better understand the interactions between mental illness and opioid misuse.

The Canadian Federation of Medical Students looks forward to working with the Government of Canada towards developing long-term sustainable solutions to the crisis and developing an effective system for preventing abuse of these drugs.


"I am thrilled to work with the government to develop solutions for some of Canada's most pressing health concerns. It is exciting to engage so many medical students who are passionate about improving patient's health. Addiction and mental health are challenging problems to tackle, and medical students work daily with patients who struggle with these issues. Working with key policy-makers to develop broad and sustainable strategies allows us to make a far greater impact than we can achieve through clinical work alone."
- Ms. Sarah Silverberg, Vice-President Government Affairs

"Talking to global health leaders at medical schools across the country about the health care issues in their community, a common theme that is the need and difficulty in addressing the opioid crisis. Although some communities are affected disproportionately more than others, no one is immune. Just as tackling the opioid crisis will involve a multidisciplinary health care approach, it will also require a multi-tier government intervention health services approach. Students are already working on local and provincial initiatives to combat the crisis - it is only fitting that we now approach the federal government as well."
- Ms. Jessica Bryce, Vice-President Global Health

"Opioids are a common pharmaceutical intervention in Canadian healthcare. The current crisis represents a significant public health issue for patients, medical professionals and the public. Equally important to the clinical education and advancements made by medical professionals is our engagement with public policy makers, where the translation of what we hear from our patients and neighbours turns into discourse to improve lifestyles, communities and populations through robust policy."
- Mr. Franco Rizzuti, CFMS President

"The CFMS Annual Lobby Day provides an opportunity for medical students from across the country to come together and meet with Parliamentarians. Through these meetings, Canada's next generation of physicians are advocating for improvements to our health care system, as we work towards serving patients and society."
- Mr. Franco Rizzuti, CFMS President

"As medical students, we regularly encounter the devastating effects of the current opioid crisis—in emergency departments, on the wards, during clinics and sometimes within our own personal circles. We see it as our duty to advocate on behalf of our future patients and contribute meaningfully to the current conversation. I, as so many medical students across the country, look forward to meeting with our nation's top policy-makers as we put forward evidence-based proposals to curb this national emergency."
- Mr. Henry Annan, National Officer of Human Rights and Peace

The Canadian Federation of Medical Students (CFMS) is a national organization that represents over 8,500 medical students at 15 medical schools across Canada.


SOURCE Canadian Federation of Medical Students (CFMS)

For further information: Emily Hodgson, Vice-President Communications, Canadian Federation of Medical Students, Cell: 1-514-699-3669 | vpcommunications@cfms.org

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