As the casualties continue to mount, B.C. is calling on Ottawa to help stem the tide of the greatest health crisis in the province’s history.
The province has applied to the federal government to decriminalize simple possession of street drugs.
Addictions Minister Sheila Malcolmson said in an announcement this month that the exemption would help reduce the fear and shame associated with substance use that prevents people from seeking care – a problem she says isn’t a criminal issue.
And that problem is only getting worse. B.C. has seen more than 7,700 people die from toxic drug poisonings since 2016, with no signs of abating. July was the 17th straight month of more than 100 B.C. residents dying from a toxic drug supply.
While B.C. is the first province to seek an exemption from Health Canada under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, its solution isn’t a new one. Portugal decriminalized all drugs in 2001 and has witnessed stunning results. Over the past two decades, the number of drug deaths has been reduced to a fraction. The level of incarceration and AIDS diagnoses in people infected through intravenous drug use has also fallen sharply, while the country has some of the lowest rates of drug use in Europe for those under the age of 34.
And the provincial government isn’t alone in its prescription to address the opioid crisis. The call to decriminalize simple possession is supported by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, along with numerous health and social services officials and advocacy groups such as Moms Stop the Harm.
“B.C.’s application to Health Canada to decriminalize people who use drugs is a vital step to keep people alive and help connect them with the health and social support they need,” said provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.
Cities like Vancouver, Victoria and Surrey have been hardest hit by the opioid crisis, but no community – no matter how small – is immune from its devastating effects.
The war on drugs was one that was destined for failure. Addiction is a complex issue that won’t be solved from the inside of a jail cell.
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