Canada Protection Plan
Durham wants opioid crisis deemed a ‘national health epidemic’

Durham Region is formally asking the provincial and federal governments to declare a national health epidemic to help address the opioid crisis.

The resolution calls on both governments to endorse the recommendations of both the Association of Municipalities Ontario (AMO) and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) related to the emergency.

“The opioid crisis is a very complex health and social issue with a wide variety of contributing factors,” said Melissa Hutchinson, the Durham Region Health Department’s manager of population health.

“The resolution indicates that the opioid emergency is not limited to urban centres; therefore, we are asking that the federal and provincial governments work with the Region of Durham to develop and fund full-scale prevention and addiction services, affordable social services and supportive housing to address this crisis in our communities.”

Research has shown there are a range of factors that have contributed to the opioid crisis including genetic vulnerability, stress, mental health, trauma and adverse childhood experiences. Additionally, the overprescribing of prescription drugs and the use of illegal opioids have all played a role in this crisis.

Risk factors for opioid addiction includes personal and/or family history of substance use, history of childhood trauma such as pre-adolescent sexual abuse, and a history of mental illness.

Canadian research studies also indicate that up to 90 per cent of women seeking treatment for substance use have experienced trauma.

Hutchinson explained that “while increased opioid prescribing for chronic pain has contributed to this crisis, factors such as reduced economic opportunity, poor working conditions and financial poverty are all root causes of the misuse of opioids and other substances, as poverty and substance use problems operate synergistically.”

Research from the Government of Canada’s recent 2018 Everybody Counts Report provides a snapshot of homelessness in Durham Region

According to details in the report, there were 291 individuals experiencing homelessness in 2018 across Durham Region, with many individuals surveyed reporting that they were staying in an emergency shelter or experiencing hidden homelessness.

The report also highlighted that of the 13 per cent of individuals surveyed who were unsheltered, 79 per cent were single adults and 31 per cent identified as struggling with substance abuse.

To best address the opioid crisis, the FCM Mayors’ Task Force and is calling for a pan-Canadian action plan that covers all four pillars of the national drug strategy including harm reduction, treatment, prevention and enforcement. FCM is also recommending an intergovernmental action plan with strategies that are comprehensive, coordinated and that address the root cause of the opioid crisis.

Similarly, AMO recommends that the province of Ontario take an ‘all of government’ effort to develop a comprehensive drug strategy based on a public health approach. AMO also urges the province and associated provincial ministries to examine a coordinated response with adequate funding to address the root causes of addiction, including housing-related factors, poverty, unemployment, mental illness and trauma.

Furthermore, AMO recommends that Ontario’s Ministry of Health provide more funding to support, enhance and expand evidence-based consumption, treatment and rehabilitation services, addiction prevention and education, and harm reduction measures in all areas of Ontario, and endorses that the Ministry of Health fund a public education campaign to complement the efforts of individual communities.

“By taking a coordinated and comprehensive approach, all levels of government can work together to provide resources, funding, support and education to best address the opioid crisis not only within our local communities, but throughout Canada as a whole,” added Hutchinson.

For more information on opioid use in Durham Region and how Durham Region is addressing the opioid crisis, visit or, or call the Durham Health Connection Line at 1-800-841-2729.

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