Canadian mayor, public health official apologize for controversial opiate response post

The vice-chair of Toronto Public Health was forced to walk back a social media post Sunday after some commenters took offense to it.

Megan Leslie, a public health councillor, tweeted a column in which Dr. Lili Rodriguez attributed a rise in drug-overdose deaths to a lack of access to more Narcan, a nasal spray used to reverse the effects of opioid overdoses.

“There is no need to assume all cases of drug overdose are related to fentanyl, and that if we had access to Narcan more people wouldn’t die,” she wrote.

There is no need to assume all cases of drug overdose are related to fentanyl, and that if we had access to Narcan more people wouldn’t die. — Megan Leslie (@meganleslie) June 2, 2019

Within hours, within Twitter notifications, the comments started rolling in.

More: Delaware officials: 2 people dead in overdoses; one suspect released after arrest

Toronto Public Health, Inc., a quasi-public agency funded with municipal, provincial and federal governments is being considered for cuts as the city prepares to reduce its annual budget by $13 million.

In response to the backlash, Leslie issued an apology for her article Sunday afternoon.

“I deeply regret the offense my tweet caused,” she wrote. “I was trying to encourage a discussion about overdose deaths that I don’t want to ignore and I realize I’ve used words I should not have used. I tried to foster dialogue, not provoke it.

“My intention was to promote discourse and help us understand the facts behind the numbers,” she continued. “I apologize again for the offense I have caused.”

Seventy-two people died of opioid-related overdoses in Toronto in 2018. fentanyl continues to be a driver of the “clustering” in overdose deaths, says Dr. Sheik Sul-Mughni, the regional medical health officer and deputy medical officer of health.

Canadians have dealt with an unprecedented opioid crisis for the past 20 years. Those fatalities are still rising and in February alone, 278 Canadians died of a fentanyl overdose.

READ MORE: Suspected Canadian fentanyl overdoses rise to more than 400 in 2018

Rodriguez is not the first health worker to come under fire this month for using social media to make statements about fentanyl.

Ankur Agarwal, a physician-ethicist with the University of Western Ontario’s Faculty of Medicine, generated criticism for a viral post on Facebook about fentanyl that was published in April.

In that post, he revealed he had injected fentanyl himself to get high. He also shared stories of the people he knew who had overdosed or died. He tweeted those and other pro-narcan message posts on April 24.

READ MORE: Is fentanyl a ‘failure?’ A Canadian physician shares his horror stories

Canadian governments have a responsibility to expand access to drug overdose-reversing treatments and Narcan should be made free for everyone, Agarwal wrote.

“For those of us who are drug users and die at the hands of opioids, receiving Narcan is life-saving. However, you can’t save your life just from the spray,” he wrote. “You need comprehensive community support and other treatment options.”

— With files from Vinesh Pratap

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