Pubdate: Sat, 12 Aug 2017
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 The Toronto Star
Author: Betsy Powell
Page: 47


People on the frontlines of the opioid overdose crisis say they know
exactly what needs to be done to save lives and tackle the "public
health emergency."

Build safe affordable housing, expedite the opening of the safe
injection sties, expand the distribution of overdose-reversing
naloxone and drug-testing kits, and increase funding for
harm-reduction staff positions.

At a news conference Friday beside a laundromat in a hardscrabble
section of downtown Toronto, community health workers, drug users and
anti-poverty activists were also united in their call to end the
criminalization of drug use.

Organizers chose Dundas and Seaton Sts. because it was steps away from
the back alley where Carl White Jr., a 27-year-old homeless man, died
of an overdose on June 22.

The message they delivered Friday was the same they brought to Mayor
John Tory at a meeting 24 hours earlier at city hall.

"We asked the mayor to think about decriminalization, to get police to
not come on overdose calls because people are still afraid to call 911
because they are scared of the police showing up," said Zoe Dodd, of
the South Riverdale Community Health Centre.

Dr. Eileen De Villa, the city's Medical Officer of Health, recently
opened the door for a public discussion on ending criminal penalties
for drug possession, suggesting a health-based approach could help
address Canada's overdose epidemic.

But this week Tory said he wasn't "particularly interested" in that

"I think we have our plate full right now looking at ways in which we
can provide better drug treatment, for example."

He said the city is already building its first supervised injection
site, increasing the distribution of naloxone and training
first-responders on life-saving measures.

"So to me to take on that particular issue, which is going to be
difficult, complex, and a potentially polarizing issue, I think is
Â…not timely."

"Now is exactly the time," Dodd said in response, noting recreational
marijuana will soon be legal in Canada. "I think he needs to be brave,
I think he needs to embrace what we're, and the Medical Officer of
Health is, suggesting to him."

Dodd believes politicians are afraid of serious drug reform because
drug use is stigmatized and a new approach would make the world "look
a whole lot different."

"It means we won't need as many cops, we won't need as many jails, we
don't need as many judges and lawyers. Right now our system is full up
with people going in and out of the justice system."

According to a new report by the Drug Policy Alliance, there is also
growing public, political and scientific consensus that governments
should redirect the billions spent on the futile war on drugs to
expand drug treatment and other health services.

"Decriminalization is a sound, effective solution to some of the
myriad of fiscal, public health, social and public safety issues
caused by the criminalization of drug possession," says the report by
the New York based non-profit organization.

It notes that several countries have experience with
decriminalization, most notably Portugal. In 2001, the country's
legislators, in response to the escalation of problematic drug use,
eliminated criminal penalties for low-level possession and consumption
of all drugs and reclassified these activities as administrative violations.

"Independent research of the Portuguese policy has shown promising
outcomes," the report says. "Today in Portugal, no one is arrested or
incarcerated for drug possession, many more people are receiving
treatment, and HIV/AIDS and drug overdose have drastically decreased."
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