A weekly digest of news clippings and events relevant to mental health and addictions policy in Canada.
In early April, 2012 CAMH Knowledge Exchange will launch a daily mental health & addiction news section called “In the News,” which will post links to clinical, research, and policy news on a daily basis. You will have an option to subscribe to an RSS feed to continue receiving your news on mental health and addictions policy in Canada.
- “New chair of Mental Health Commission sees wave of interest in mental illness”
(Globe and Mail)
“Renowned psychiatrist David Goldbloom has been named the new chair of the Mental Health Commission of Canada. He takes over from Michael Kirby, who led the MHCC since its inception in 2007. The former senator said he will remain active in the field. In the coming days he will officially launch a new group, Partners for Mental Health, a coalition he hopes will spur a social movement that rivals breast cancer in terms of public visibility and political influence. “We’re finally getting mental illness out of the shadows forever,” he said.”
- “Ontario health agencies call for strong measures to tackle chronic illness”
“Two provincial health agencies are calling for hiking tobacco taxes, banning smoking on bar and restaurant patios, setting minimum prices for alcoholic beverages and making phys-ed mandatory right through high school. The sweeping recommendations, contained in a report from Cancer Care Ontario and Public Health Ontario for release Tuesday, are aimed at addressing the high percentage of deaths in Ontario (79 percent) related to chronic but largely preventable illnesses. These include some cancers, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease and diabetes.”
- “Ontario won’t ban patio smoking, says Deb Matthews”
“Ontario won’t ban smoking on bar and restaurant patios, Health Minister Deb Matthews says, despite a push to do so by two health agencies. “It’s not something under active consideration right now but I know many municipalities are looking at strengthening the anti-smoking provisions,” she said Tuesday after calls for action from Cancer Care Ontario and Public Health Ontario.”
- “Senate considers legalizing single sporting event betting”
“Canadians who want to throw down a few dollars on the Leafs vs. the Habs — or any other single sporting event — could soon do so legally, thanks to the efforts of a Conservative senator and a New Democrat MP. A private member’s bill sponsored by Ontario Sen. Bob Runciman would overturn the section of the Criminal Code that prevents wagering on the outcome of a single race, fight or game.”
- “Ontario health, university executives brace for budget pay freeze”
(Globe and Mail)
“Hospital, university and electricity utility executives in Ontario are bracing for a pay freeze covering all aspects of their compensation, including bonus pay, in Tuesday’s provincial budget. Finance Minister Dwight Duncan signalled at a pre-budget photo-op on Monday that he is looking at extending a two-year freeze introduced in 2010 for all public-sector workers in the province who do not bargain collectively. He suggested that the freeze will be broader this time around, covering not just salaries but also bonuses and other incentive pay for CEOs and other executives.”
- “Ontario budget: Child benefit increase being delayed and social assistance rates frozen”
“Social assistance rates are being frozen and a planned increase in the Ontario Child Benefit delayed as the province tries to reduce its $16 billion deficit, Premier Dalton McGuinty says. McGuinty warned that Finance Minister Dwight Duncan’s budget on Tuesday will be the “toughest” since the Liberals were elected in 2003. But on Sunday, the Premier stressed that “we are not prepared to balance this budget on the backs of families who may find themselves in difficult circumstances for the time being or on the backs of our children.”
- “CMHA Ontario makes recommendations for social assistance reforms”
(CMHA Mental Health Notes)
“Canadian Mental Health Association, Ontario (CMHA Ontario) has responded to the Social Assistance Review Commission's second paper, "Options for Reform" with 13 recommendations in the Commission's five areas of interest. CMHA Ontario structured their submission to respond to many, but not all, of the Commission's questions with regards to the options they proposed for possible reforms to the current social assistance system in Ontario.”
- “British Prime Minister proposes minimal alcohol pricing to reduce drinking”
British Prime Minister David Cameron has proposed that the United Kingdom set a minimum price for alcohol, in an effort to reduce problem drinking. He is proposing that British retailers charge a minimum of 40 pence (63 cents) per unit of alcohol, according to The Wall Street Journal. A bottle of wine generally contains nine or more units of alcohol, the article notes.
- "Ontario Liberals go all in on casinos"
(Adam Radwanski, Globe and Mail)
“At the start of this past week, a government run by a premier who once pronounced himself “not attracted” to the idea of opening more casinos announced it will do just that. And by the way, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation will also delve into the online gambling market, start selling lottery tickets more aggressively, and likely start taking more bets on sporting events. By the end of the week, Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals looked downright consistent on the matter, if only by comparison. State-run gambling, which largely involves getting people with limited resources to pay voluntary taxes, has long tied Ontario politicians in knots. And while the Liberals have abruptly landed on a reasonably coherent position - that if the deficit-plagued province is going to remain in the gambling business, it might as well finally go all in - the province’s other two major parties appear to be confusing even themselves.”
- "How do we control physician costs?”
(André Picard, Globe and Mail)
“One of the country’s biggest labour contracts – the deal between the Ontario Medical Association and the province that is worth more than $8-billion annually – expires on March 31. The government of Premier Dalton McGuinty has stated clearly that it wants to freeze spending on physicians for at least two years. So why no outcry over the prospect of 0, 0? Why aren’t doctors threatening picket lines and calling in sick en masse to press their demands like other labour unions? There are a few reasons.”
- “Ontario creates withdrawal plan for Oxycontin users”
“The government has devised a province-wide plan on how to wean Ontario users off OxyContin, after weeks of criticism for not being prepared to handle mass withdrawals. The hidden horrors of opioid painkiller addictions have come to the forefront now that OxyContin is no longer being distributed in the Canadian market. The drug’s maker, Purdue Pharma, has created a newer formulation called OxyNEO, a tablet that they say is harder to crush and abuse.”
- “Gambler addiction, suicide among Toronto casino concerns”
“The biggest boon to the gambling industry is the poor economy. So it’s no surprise that revenue-hungry governments like Ontario have increasingly relied on the slots to help bolster the budget. “It’s an economic decision. Gambling is huge business, and what they’re trying to do is not only capitalize upon (the) Toronto market, but also to try to capitalize upon tourists who may be coming in to the city,” said Jeffrey Derevensky, a problem gambling expert from McGill University. And as much as the new casino destined for the GTA was inevitable, so too is the backlash.”
- “Small hospitals excluded from Ontario’s new funding formula”
(Globe and Mail)
“Hospitals in small towns and rural Ontario will continue to receive annual funding consisting of lump-sum payments, regardless of the number of patients they treat and the quality of care they provide. Health Minister Deb Matthews announced on Monday that the government is rolling out a new funding formula for the province’s hospitals, effective next month. But the new model, which is based on how many patients hospitals treat and the services they provide, will apply to just 91 of the province’s 152 hospitals. The government is excluding psychiatric institutions as well as 55 small hospitals – those that typically treat fewer than 2,700 patients a year – in recognition of the unique role they play within their communities.”
- “Harper’s promise fulfilled as House passes crime bill”
(Globe and Mail)
“After prematurely celebrating passage of their omnibus crime bill last week, the federal Conservatives have finally managed to push the controversial piece of legislation through Parliament. The final vote in the House of Commons on Monday means Prime Minister Stephen Harper has fulfilled his commitment to get the legislation passed within the first 100 days of this session.... The Canadian Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers says the bill does not take into consideration that fact that many of the people who are now filling Canada’s jails are suffering from a mental illness. The Assembly of First Nations says the bill will compound the existing over-representation of aboriginal people behind bars.”
- "Five public policies that will lead to pain relief without prescription overdoses”
(Celia Vimont, Join Together)
“Major policy changes are needed to resolve the tension between providing adequate pain relief and tackling the epidemic of prescription opioid overdoses, according to drug policy expert Keith Humphreys, PhD. At the recent American Academy of Pain Medicine meeting, he laid out five policies that can achieve a realistic balance.”
- “A casino in Toronto is a terrible idea that smacks of desperation”
(Toronto Star editorial)
“A casino for the Toronto area, government-backed Internet gambling and greater access to slots and lottery tickets – so many new chances for Ontarians to win. But wait, there’s more: government plans to “modernize” gambling will produce 6,000 new jobs and $1.3 billion a year to “support schools and hospitals.” Gosh, it all sounds so appealing. But before the Liberal government bets Ontario’s fiscal future on new roulette tables at the CNE, the Woodbine racetrack or anywhere else, let’s consider a few things they were less keen to highlight in Monday’s announcement.”
- "McGuinty can’t afford misgivings about gaming"
(Adam Radwanski, Globe and Mail)
“Unlike so many of the other measures that may be necessary to adapt Ontario’s finances to its new economic realities, it’s ostensibly more about building than about tearing down. But as a break from the past, from the ideas and ideals that guided previous policies, the planned growth of the province’s gambling empire is right up there with the recent decision to shutter Ontario Place. And it says even more about what we have become, and what we can no longer afford to be.”
- "Canadian health care needs a massive transformation"
(John Millar, Toronto Star)
“We’ve heard it from many quarters now: the fiscal sustainability of Canada’s health-care system is under threat as health expenditures are increasing faster than government revenues. Rising health-care budgets are largely attributable to increased utilization of medical technologies, drugs and health human resources, as recent studies attest. (Population increase and aging also have some effect, but it’s smaller.) Also driving costs is an increasing burden of chronic disease, which includes conditions such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, stroke, cancer, mental health conditions, muscle and joint disease, and others. The solution lies in nothing less than a transformation of our primary health-care system in Canada. We need to provide comprehensive, integrated, community-based services that will improve population health, reduce inequities, reduce health-care expenditures and contribute to the sustainability of our publicly funded health system. One essential step toward this transformation would be a coordinated pan-Canadian effort to develop indicators and databases that will support accountability in health care and drive the required changes.”
- “MP’s widow makes case for national suicide-prevention plan”
(Globe and Mail)
“To a casual observer of Parliament, Dave Batters was the last guy who would take his own life. The Saskatchewan Conservative was one of the most upbeat and engaging young rookie MPs when he was first elected in 2004. So it came as a shock, four years later, when Mr. Batters told Canadians he would not seek re-election in the riding of Palliser due to unresolved mental health issues.”
- "Toronto to look at expanding outdoor smoking ban now aimed at playgrounds”
“The City of Toronto has fallen behind other municipalities in banning smoking where people gather outdoors and will consider new options this year, says the chair of Toronto’s Board of Health. Councillor John Filion was reacting to a Star story noting that the Lake Simcoe community of Georgina is poised to ban smoking on beaches, in parks and on trails. The town is among more than 50 Ontario municipalities pushing the indoor-focused 2006 Smoke-Free Ontario law to the outdoors.”
- “Tobacco firms face all-out assault in Canadian courts.”
(Globe and Mail)
“It was the start of a life-long addiction that would leave Mr. Blais a lung-cancer survivor and one of the figureheads for two class-action lawsuits seeking $27-billion in damages from the three biggest tobacco companies. The lawsuits set to go to trial Monday are the first of their kind to get to that stage in Canada after nearly 13 years of legal manoeuvring. One of the Quebec suits seeks $10,000 in damages for each of the estimated 1.8 million people in Quebec hooked on cigarettes. The suit represented by Mr. Blais seeks $105,000 for each of the estimated 90,000 people who suffer from smoking-related diseases. Both lawsuits name the three biggest cigarette companies, JTI-Macdonald Corp., Imperial Tobacco Canada Ltd., and Rothmans, Benson & Hedges Inc., as defendants. The companies are facing an all-out assault in Canadian courts. Another class-action lawsuit has been filed in British Columbia on behalf of smokers.”
- “Methadone requests spike after OxyContin delisting”
“Toronto Public Health says demand for referrals to methadone clinics in the city has tripled in the last week, after the prescription painkiller OxyContin was discontinued. 'Normally, we would see maybe five or six people coming in in a week asking for methadone treatment, and now we're seeing about three times that number," said Dr. Rita Shahin, an associate medical officer of health. "It's hard to know how much OxyContin is still out there on the street and whether that demand for services will increase as more people are worried about going into withdrawal.'”
- “OLG pushes for Toronto casino in expansion bid.”
(Globe and Mail)
“The corporation that oversees government-sanctioned gambling in Ontario is pushing for a major expansion, including a casino in Toronto and greater access to slots and lottery tickets. The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation believes their plan to “modernize” gambling could, by 2017, increase by $1.3-billion the $2-billion they already add to Ontario’s coffers.”
- “Canadian lawmakers staying out of the online gambling game: expert”
“The ongoing crackdown by American authorities against foreign operators of online gambling sites begs the question: why haven't Canadian authorities done the same? In Canada, only provincial governments are permitted to operate online gambling sites. Yet, there are an estimated 2,000 offshore gambling sites accessible in this country and Canadians are pouring huge amounts of money into them. Experts say the law is murky and legal opinion is divided over whether these sites are breaking Canadian laws.”
- “Florida passes random drug tests of state workers”
Florida state agencies can randomly drug-test their employees under a bill passed Friday by the Legislature - the first of its kind in the nation. The Senate passed the previously approved House bill (HB 1205) by a mostly Republican party-line vote of 26-14. It next goes to Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who is certain to sign it. He already tried to enforce random state employee drug testing through an executive order now suspended while it's being challenged in federal court. When approved, Florida would be the first state to allow for random, "suspicionless" drug testing of all state workers, according to the National Association of State Personnel Executives.
- "A war on brain illness should be declared.”
Globe and Mail editorial (March 11, 2012)
“A disorder in the brain affects not only the body but can rob a person’s sense of identity. There are so many afflictions – autism, Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia – it’s no wonder some experts are calling for a “War on Brain Illness” the way Richard Nixon called for a War on Cancer.”
- "Society has a right to lock up the dangerously mentally ill."
Matt Gurney, National Post (March 7, 2012).
“…Two escapes in two months is alarming, especially given May’s history of unprovoked and sudden acts of violence against women. His situation is tragic, but clearly, society must be protected from his illness. If May is able to get treatment, and find peace and stability, that will be something all should celebrate, and his status should be reconsidered in light of those hypothetical new circumstances. If not, or until then, segregation is the only alternative.”
- "A Study of How People with Mental Illness Perceive and Interact with the Police.” (PDF)
Mental Health Commission of Canada (November 2011)
“The perceptions that the police and people with mental illness have of one another can influence the nature and quality of their interactions. Though a considerable body of research exists concerning the perceptions of police officers towards people with mental illness, there is a dearth of research focusing specifically on the perceptions that people with mental illness hold toward the police. The research described within this report is focused on addressing this knowledge gap.”"Chronic pain patients collateral damage of drug-abuse policy."
André Picard, Globe and Mail (March 5, 2012).
“OxyContin, a powerful painkiller, disappeared from Canada on March 1. It was replaced by OxyNEO, a chemically identical, but tamper-resistant version. The anger, confusion and physical pain that has resulted from this seemingly benign upgrade speaks volumes about what’s wrong with our approach to drugs in this country. We pay far too little attention to the effectiveness of medications used for legitimate purposes like pain control. At the same time, we fret incessantly about drug abuse while doing virtually nothing to prevent or treat addiction. Worse yet, we behave as if these challenges are somehow unrelated when, in fact, they are intricately linked.”
- "Supervised injection clinics for drug addicts make neighbourhoods safer."
Globe and Mail editorial (March 5, 2012).
“When natural concern for neighbourhood safety and cleanliness turns into irrational pronouncements and wild fears, the record needs to be set straight. Montreal’s public-health department wants to set up three supervised-injection facilities. One would be in a community health clinic called Cactus Montréal, which already provides clean needles to addicts in the downtown area. But a coalition of downtown residents, opposing the addition of supervised injections, says it’s “worried about the honey pot effect. People will come from Boston and Vancouver and say, ‘Hey, let’s go for a trip and shoot up.’” This idea of addicts being drawn to distant supervised-injection clinics is pure fantasy. This fantasy prevents people from seeing that the clinics actually contribute to the safety and cleanliness of their neighbourhoods, rather than making matters worse.”
- "OxyContin ban a mixed blessing."
Joe Fiorito, Toronto Star (March 9, 2012).
“When I had my knee reamed out, there was some post-op trouble. I have considerable tolerance for pain — provided it is slow and steady, rather than sudden and sharp — but this was ridiculous. So they gave me the big-league Tylenol, which might as well have been jellybeans, and then I got Percocets, which were as useful as lemon drops to me. I am a Dilaudid man. Who knew? The point of the homily: the chemistry of the body is a marvel, all of us are different, and what works for you might not work for me, whereas that which mucks me up might be perfectly fine for you.”
- “The high cost of funding OxyContin”
(Globe and Mail)
“Ontario spent nearly half a billion dollars paying for OxyContin prescriptions in the past decade before making the decision to pull funding for the controversial drug this month. Most of the spending was concentrated in the past six years, which coincides with the time period addictions to the powerful narcotic painkiller exploded across the province and country.”
- “Montreal divided on location of safe-injection sites”
(Globe and Mail)
“With its glass walls and breezily painted street front, Cactus Montréal looks more like a community gym than what it is – a needle exchange that stands at the heart of a dispute over the future of Montreal’s supervised drug-injection plans. When the Supreme Court opened the door last fall to safe-injection clinics in Canada, health officials in Montreal expected to move quickly and follow the lead of Vancouver’s Insite. Canada’s second-largest city seemed like a natural location for such a service, with its high number of intravenous drug users and reputation for tolerant social attitudes. But now health officials have sailed into political headwinds.”
- “Doug Ford calls for lottery or casino to pay for mayor’s subway plan”
(Globe and Mail)
“Toronto Councillor Doug Ford says there is no way the mayor will bring back the hated vehicle registration tax to pay for subways, but discussions are under way about creating a lottery or casino in his own Etobicoke ward that would pump millions into transit expansion. With a deciding vote on the future of Toronto transit less than a month way, Councillor Ford challenged his fellow politicians to start thinking “outside the box,” about ways to finance the proposed $4-billion Sheppard subway expansion.”
- “Thousands fewer would die each year if Ontario’s poor were as healthy as the rich”
“If poorer Ontarians were as healthy as richer Ontarians, there would be 230,000 fewer people with disabilities and nearly 3,400 fewer deaths annually, according to an exhaustive study on women’s health. There would also be 318,000 fewer people in fair or poor health, says the study released Tuesday. While it has long been known that poor people are sicker, this is the first time provincial researchers have drilled down to measure the extent of such inequities.”
- “Picture-based cigarette warnings.”
(Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada news release)
“As of March 21, 2012, all cigarettes manufactured or imported must have the new warnings covering 75% of the package front and back. Retailers have until June 18, 2012 to sell their old inventory before being required to only sell cigarettes with new warnings.”