House of Commons – April 3, 2017

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to private member’s Bill C-307, an act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. However, before I address the issues, it is a very special day for me. My son, Alexander Oliver, and his very good friend, Tiana Prince, have joined me in Ottawa. It is great to have them in our capital city with me for a few days.

The intent of Bill C-307 is to enable the federal Minister of Health to require prescription medicine, specifically opioids, to have abuse-deterrent formulations or tamper-proof, tamper-resistant properties. By doing so, it will make these drugs more difficult to crush, snort, or inject, reduce their potential for misuse, abuse, and diversion to our streets.

I strongly agree with the sponsor of the bill when he said that this issue was about public health, about saving lives and doing the right thing. Canadians are the second-highest consumers of prescription opioids in the world. Fifteen per cent of Canadians aged 15 years and older report using prescription opioids in 2013. It is estimated that about 10% of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain become addicted. Furthermore, the increased availability of prescription opioids in households has meant that Canadian youth have begun using them for recreational purposes. Six per cent of youth aged 15 to 19 years indicated they abused opioid pain relievers in the past year.

These trends result in significant harms. In Ontario, one in eight deaths of individuals aged 25 to 34 years was found to be opiate-related in 2010. Similarly, there has been a substantial increase in the number of opioid-related deaths in Quebec, reaching almost three deaths per 100,000 persons in 2012.

The response to the crisis by the government has been rapid, and I am pleased to see an evidence-based, health centric focus on harm reduction return to our health policy and legislation.

The Minister of Health has already responded to the crisis through a five-point action plan that includes better informing Canadians about the risks of opioids; supporting better prescribing practices; reducing easy access to unnecessary opioids; supporting better treatment options for patients; and improving the evidence base and data collection. The minister also convened a two-day pan-Canadian conference on opioid abuse in November 2016, which generated many of the changes that were introduced to the House in Bill C-37.

Further, the Standing Committee on Health, which I am proud to be a member of, issued a comprehensive report and recommendations on the opioid crisis on December 12, 2016. In the committee study, the issue of tamper-resistant technologies did not emerge as a preventive strategy. During the course of its study, the committee held five meetings, in which it heard from a range of stakeholders, including federal and provincial government representatives, health care professionals, addiction experts, emergency front-line responders, representatives of first nations communities, and individuals with lived experience in substance abuse and addiction. These witnesses outlined specific ways to address the opioid crisis and implored the committee to make recommendations that would lead to concrete action.

The 38 recommendations focused on harm reduction; prevention, including training for physicians in prescribing practices and public education; treatment, including addiction treatment and improved access to mental health services; and law enforcement and border security changes. Tamper-resistance formulations were never documented in witness testimonies as an effective strategy.

Let me expand on this point.

One of the debate points over the proposed change to the law in Bill C-307 is about whether an explicit legislative authority is needed to require certain drugs to have tamper-resistant formulations. The government’s position is that the current regulation-making authorities under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act are sufficient already to develop regulations should the evidence demonstrate a need for them in the future. From this point of view, Bill C-307 is unnecessary.

Further, nothing in Bill C-307 would speed up that regulation-making process. The sponsor of Bill C-307 outlined many tamper-resistance technologies currently under development…

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