Private member's bill seeks to crack down on illegal opioid pill presses
Allison Jones, The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, September 21, 2017 4:40PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, September 21, 2017 4:53PM EDT
TORONTO -- An Ontario bill that would jail or slap large fines on people using pill presses illegally to make counterfeit opioids has passed a key hurdle.
The Progressive Conservative private member's bill that passed second reading Thursday would fine anyone -- besides pharmacists -- using or possessing such machines up to $200,000 or send them to jail for up to six months.
A second offence would see the fine boosted to up to $350,000 and the maximum jail time increase to one year, while third and subsequent offences would carry a fine of up to $500,000 and jail of up to two years.
Michael Harris said his bill seeks to tackle the problem of organized criminals using the machines to churn out counterfeit opiate drugs.
"These folks are not pharmacists, they're not chemists, they're scumbag drug dealers looking to make a profit," he said.
Nineteen-year-old Leila Attar joined Harris to call for his bill to be passed, saying she accidentally overdosed when she took what she thought was percocet bought from a colleague, not realizing it was laced with fentanyl.
After years of using drugs and alcohol to deal with personal struggles, Attar said that experience was a wake-up call and she is now 10 months into recovery. However, others are still in danger, she said.
"I'd say every high school kid that is experimenting with drugs is at risk right now for coming into contact with fentanyl," she said.
The bill would help law enforcement deal with the issue, Attar believes.
"It's another tool in our toolkit that we can use to deal with this crisis and keep those who are most vulnerable safe," she said.
At least 2,816 Canadians died from opioid-related causes in 2016 -- 865 of them in Ontario. It is not known how many people have died from opioid overdoses in the province so far this year, but public health officials predict the number will rise.
The latest Ontario government data show that in April, May and June there were 1,898 opioid overdose ER visits -- a 76 per cent increase from the same time period last year, and a 40 per cent increase from the first three months of this year.
Health Minister Eric Hoskins has called Harris's bill a simplistic approach, saying the fight against opioids must be multi-faceted.
"What surprises me a little bit is that seems to be the totality of the PC approach," he said. "I have yet to hear a single suggestion beyond banning pill presses that has come from the PC side."
The federal government has already banned the importation of pill presses for those without a licence to do so, Hoskins noted.
But Harris said machines are still coming in undetected, while many others were already here, "pumping out laced pills every day."
"We recognize that there is no single simplistic solution to adequately address the breadth of this epidemic," he said. "This is but one piece of the puzzle and if we can save one life, if we can prevent those like Leila from the impacts of overdose, then why wouldn't we take that step today?"