Health Minister Tom Osborne on Friday announced the creation of an all-party committee in response to calls for more provincial support for people battling substance use and addictions. (Danny Arsenault/CBC)
With a recent spike in drug overdose deaths in Newfoundland and Labrador prompting calls to overhaul provincial drug policies, Health Minister Tom Osborne says a new all-party committee will work on ways to improve support for people battling addictions.
Osborne said Friday that 24 people have died due to overdoses this year, with eleven of those deaths coming in July and another three deaths in August.
"We have to work towards putting policies and procedures in place to minimize to the greatest extent possible those numbers," Osborne said.
Osborne said that work will be guided by a new all-party committee. Committee members haven't been nailed down yet, he said, but the group will work with community organizations and people with experience in addictions and substance abuse.
Osborne said the committee will do similar work to the mental health and addictions all-party committee from 2017, whose work was incorporated in the province's Towards Recovery plan and its 54 recommendations for improving mental health care.
"We're in this together, and it does take all parties working together to resolve this issue. It's too important to look at it through a political lens," he said. "There's much more work to be done."
Osborne said the committee will be given a flexible timeline of six months to do its work and present recommendations.
Gerard Yetman of the AIDS Committee of Newfoundland and Labrador, left, and U-Turn Addiction Drop-In Centre executive director Jeff Bourne are among the community stakeholders who will be working with the committee. (Danny Arsenault/CBC)
Gerard Yetman, executive director of the AIDS Committee of Newfoundland and Labrador, says the committee will do crucial work at a time when more support is needed.
"We have developed quite a lot of resources [and] programs to address addictions, but we also know that there's a lot of gaps," he said. He said his organization will work with the community to make sure people with experi
"So as a community organization, I would like to work with the three-party committee so that we make sure that we get the voice of the people with lived experience at the table. So we can identify what are the needs."
Jeff Bourne, executive director of the U-Turn Addiction Drop-In Centre in Carbonear, said the perspectives of people who have experience with substance use and addictions will be especially important.
He's eager for the task force to begin its work, he said, as he's seeing addiction changing every day.
"It's to a point now that [it affects] somebody's child, somebody's brother, somebody's sister. And it's huge, I guess, for the all-party mental health and addiction committee to come together again for the simple fact that it's not 'they' — it's a 'we' problem," Bourne said.
"Anything we can do as a society to come together to work toward that person's wellness without judgment, without shame, without guilt … somebody might get that glimmer of hope."
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