KPMG urges Canadian government to set 'bold goals' to combat opioid crisis

17 August 2018 4 min. read
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In the latest issue of KPMG’s brief ‘The Opioid Epidemic’ which focuses on the taking action to address the crisis in the Canadian context, the professional services firm challenges the country’s leaders to set ‘bold goals.’ The firm has been involved with international efforts to combat the opioid epidemic throughout North America with a series of thought leadership releases spanning three briefs.

KPMG, one of the globe’s largest professional services firms, has set its sights on the North American opioid crisis, urging Canada to set an example. Opioids killed over 4,000 people in 2017 throughout the country, an increase of 1000 deaths over 2016. “Preliminary data suggests the devastating number of deaths will continue to grow,” states the report.

Canada is only behind the US in consumption of opioids, where on average 142 people die of opioid overdoses every day. In Canada, that number is roughly 10 per day, but still poses a significant threat to public health, with opioid-related hospitalizations increasing by 53% over the past decade.

In an attempt to curb the problem, the Canadian Government introduced the Canadian Drugs and Substances Strategy (CDSS) in 2016. The scheme has been analyzed by KPMG through a lens of four pillars which include prevention, treatment, hard reduction, and enforcement. Whilst the firm states that it’s too early to evaluate its success, the report states that even with the CDSS in place, “in 2017, at least, the epidemic showed no sign of abating.”

The professional services firm states that an opioid addiction is a long-term medical condition and treating this condition will require a similarly long-term and comprehensive response. This includes radical and transformative approaches to the way that governments respond to the crisis.

“The driver behind it, however, will be a vision with a quantified goal. Harm and deaths caused by the opioid epidemic need to be reduced, if not eradicated. This is a challenge that doesn’t ask for a ‘go’ or ‘no go’ decision. The question is ‘when’ and ‘by how much.’ Only then will we be able to start the movement and change the future for the better,” states the report.KPMG urge Canadian government to set “bold goals” to combat opioid crisisIn the previous versions of the report, KPMG identified what countries around the globe are doing to counteract the issue. Whilst over 80% of opioids produced globally are consumed in Canada and the US, it is not solely a North American phenomenon. Australia and Europe are also battling the issue, albeit on a smaller scale.

The majority of countries are fighting opioids using similar strategies which KPMG finds reassuring, noting that “there is some consensus among academics and policy makers on how to combat the crisis.” That being said, the latest version of the report highlights examples of radical approaches that have worked in reducing the amount of both usage and deaths from the drug.

One such response cited is Australia’s injection spaces in high-use areas. The concept – which is supported by nurses and trained professionals – is said to reduce harm, prevent overdoses, stop the transmission of HIV/hepatitis C, and build relationships that offers access away from the drug. Canada too has had a safe injecting room in downtown Vancouver which has come under fire by governments who have tough-on-drugs policies.

Another, more radical approach cited by the professional services firm is Portugal. The Southern European nation had a large opioid problem with a staggering 1% of the population hooked throughout the 1990s. After years of criminalization and prosecution, the epidemic became so bad that the country back-flipped and began to treat drug addiction as a public health issue rather than a crime.

“The distribution of drugs remains illegal in Portugal; however, those caught with less than a 10-day supply are brought before the Commission for the Dissuasion of Drug Addiction. A panel of three members, generally comprised of a mix of a lawyer, judge, doctor, psychologist, and a social worker, has three options: recommend treatment, a small fine, or do nothing. Counselling is the most common outcome,” states the report.

Fast forward to today and the results are clear that radical approaches work. Portugal’s drug usage dropped by over 50 percent and the country shifted millions of dollars from the federal incarceration system into public health instead, benefiting users and the community at large, as well as the economy.

The report concludes with a call to action: “The challenge is becoming less about ‘what’ should be done, and is increasingly more about ‘how’ interventions are being implemented to ensure they are effective, consistent, and scalable.”