For our incoming MPPA and MA-SEP students, the first week of school ended with an induction exercise designed to engage them with the complex challenges facing today’s policy makers.

The School has run induction exercises for the past three years. The first considered the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report and its implications for the Canadian Government and last year’s focused on Gender Based Analysis.

This year we turned to the opioid crisis – a crisis that touches the lives of so many Canadian families, and a crisis that presents unique challenges for policy makers. Challenges that span law enforcement and border security, the practices of doctors and pharmaceutical companies and treatment services for mental health and substance use.

The exercise served as an entry point into these complex policy challenge. Professor Marc-André Gagnon began with a presentation on the medical origins of the crisis, offering insights into the promotional practices of pharmaceutical companies and doctors’ changing prescribing practices for pain. Karen Shepherd, Executive Advisor to the Deputy Minister of Health Canada and SPPA Alumni Award winner, explained the federal government’s current approach to the crisis, touching on the severity and continued salience of the problem and the commitments made by the federal government in budget 2018 on treatment, borders, evidence and stigma. Vik Adhopia, a CBC reporter with nearly two decades of experience covering substance use, offered a window into the lives of those affected by the opioid crisis.

Student questions engage the panelists on the path forward, including different international models for drug decriminalization, such as practiced in Portugal, opportunities for international cooperation to address illicit drug supplies and the local controversies surrounding safe consumption sites proposed and in place across the country.

Karen Shepherd and Marc-Andre Gagnon

Vik Adopia

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