Pubdate: Fri, 20 Jun 2014
Source: Coast Reporter (CN BC)
Copyright: 2014 Coast Reporter
Author: Paul Martiquet, health columnist


We have been working for many years on proving that our approach to 
the use of psychoactive substances does not work.

For decades Canada, the United States and most western countries have 
valiantly tried to use prohibition and criminalization to control the 
use and abuse of certain substances. All that has been proven is that 
this does not work.

If prohibition had been working, we would have seen less drug use, 
fewer associated harms. Nor would illegal markets, organized crime 
and related violence have flourished. Prohibition has even led to 
increasing harm to public health from the spread of HIV and hepatitis 
C. Clearly, the time has come for a new approach.

Before we consider alternatives, we need to know that psychoactive 
substances are products that when ingested, inhaled, injected or 
absorbed affect a person's mental processes. These 'drugs' are not 
necessarily addictive. They include alcohol, tobacco, cannabis, 
opiates, psychedelic substances and stimulants such as cocaine and 
amphetamines among others.

For thousands of years we have been using psychoactive substances in 
spiritual and religious rituals, for medicinal purposes and by 
significant proportions of populations for individual reasons and as 
part of social interactions. Among the first known examples are the 
Sumerians, who in 3400 BC were cultivating the "joy plant" (opium 
poppies); cannabis has been used medicinally in China since at least 3000 BC.

Today, our societies have been devoting millions of dollars and other 
resources at stopping the uses of psychoactive substances. It has not 
worked. There is now ample evidence that an alternative approach can 
and does work. That is, devising policies and practices based on a 
public health approach. Evidence-based action addresses underlying 
determinants of health and makes health promotion and prevention of 
death, disease and injury at the center of policies and practices.

The Canadian Public Health Association (CPHA) just released a 
discussion paper calling for discussion on managing the use and abuse 
of psychoactive substances. Called, "A New Approach to Managing 
Illegal Psychoactive Substances in Canada," the report presents an 
excellent overview of the problems we face and opens up discussion on 
the subject.

As an independent voice for public health in Canada, the CPHA is also 
the only Canadian non-governmental organization focused exclusively 
on public health. It is ideally placed to facilitate discussion on 
the topic and to provide a framework for action.

In its paper, the CPHA does not identify what actions or policies are 
required. Rather, it provides sound information about the challenges 
we face trying to manage these substances in ways that benefit our 
society - criminalization and prohibition are not the answer.

To learn more about the CPHA and its report, visit them online at and download the report.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom