Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott has accepted some of the Senate’s changes to a key piece of legislation to deal with the opioid crisis.
The Senate passed Bill C-37 with three amendments a week ago, sending it back to the House of Commons.
Today, the Liberal government signalled it will accept the Senate’s tweak to the legislation that calls for a minimum of 45 days for the public to comment on new supervised drug consumption sites.
Philpott noted this public comment period is on top of the consultations already done by the community applying for a site, and would only happen in cases where the federal minister felt it was necessary.
Philpott is rejecting an amendment that would give her the option to set up a citizen advisory committee to write annual reports on public concerns about the presence of a site in the community.
“We really felt that that was unacceptable. It would add a significant burden to these sites, and it particularly was felt by many stakeholders to be stigmatizing because we don’t put this burden on any other kind of health facility,” Philpott said
Finally, Philpott is suggesting an amendment to the most controversial change from the Senate, which would require doctors at these sites to offer substitute pharmaceuticals to drug users as an alternative to using more dangerous street drugs and to discourage the sale of illicit drugs.
Instead, the health minister is suggesting the Senate’s wording be amended to replace the words “shall offer” with the words “may offer.”
Conservative Senator Vern White introduced the original amendment, and he doesn’t like the minister’s change.
“I am concerned that removing the requirement of supervised consumption sites to offer a pharmaceutical replacement will feed organized crime and jeopardize the lives of addicts,” he wrote in a statement to CBC News.
Conservative Colin Carrie made a similar argument in the House of Commons.
“They come in with a vial of poison basically, something that was made up in a drug dealer’s basement, and it’s not safe, it’s dangerous. And this amendment would allow addicts to be offered a pharmaceutical-grade option instead of forcing them to use this dangerous drug,” Carrie said.
Philpott says she’s met with Senator White many times to discuss his concerns.
“I’m absolutely supportive what I understand to be his primary motivation around this, and we are fully supportive of making sure people have access to a whole range of treatment,” Philpott said.
“But we felt that in this case, it was not appropriate to force this provision of a particular type of treatment…. Sometimes people come to supervised consumption sites and they’re ready for additional treatment and sometimes they’re not,” she said.
2 new sites
On the same day she was urging MPs and senators to pass this legislation quickly, Philpott also gave final approval to two new supervised consumption sites in Montreal.