Pubdate: Tue, 24 Oct 2017
Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Terry Lake
Page: A7


The solution lies in public education, not punishment, writes Terry

Recently, I attended a meeting hosted by We the Parents, a Kanata
organization trying to address the challenge of addictions and the
very real tragedies that befall affected families. I saw grieving
parents struggling to understand both the complexities of addiction
and the way our health and criminal justice systems are responding to
it. Understandably, many who attended were looking for
straightforward, actionable solutions to this crisis.

They were met with a response by one former senior police officer that
those selling drugs should be given harsher sentences. While it may
seem appealing to go after the dealers instead of the user, in fact,
many dealers are themselves struggling with addiction and using
whatever tools are at hand, including selling drugs, to cope with that

Parents were also told by a former senior police officer that the vast
majority of those dying from drug overdoses were ingesting pills
orally, when in fact that is not the case. Fentanyl and
carfentanil-laced pills are out there, but overdose risk is highest
when a drug is crushed and then snorted or injected.

Perhaps most concerning, they were also told that fentanyl was being
found in cannabis. This information has not been validated anywhere in
Canada, and will cause unnecessary worry among parents of the 30 per
cent of Canadian youth who are estimated to use cannabis.

In four years as minister of health for British Columbia (2013-2017),
I learned a lot about addictions and the current poisonous illicit
drug supply. In B.C., more than 1,000 people have died from drug
overdoses so far this year. Extrapolated to Ontario, it is the
equivalent of more than 2,500 deaths and it appears to be on track to
get there soon, unless all steps are taken to prevent it.

Multiple problems need to be addressed. Only a small proportion of
people who use drugs will develop an addiction. So-called recreational
drug use is not uncommon among high-functioning, non-addicted members
of Canadian society. A huge public information campaign is needed to
create awareness of the risks involved in using certain illicit drugs,
provide evidence-based harm-reduction education to people who will
inevitably use drugs in the current climate, and reduce the stigma we
so often attach to using illicit drugs

Addiction is a different problem that is harder to address because of
its complexity in terms of how it develops and how it is treated. I do
not believe it is a failure of morality or poor judgment but rather a
result of different paths in life, often resulting from intersecting
socio-economic and environmental factors: surviving early childhood
and intergenerational trauma, growing up in a disadvantaged social or
economic environment, or developing a dependence on opioids that were
prescribed for injury or illness. Addiction is a chronic relapsing
disease for which there is no one treatment approach that will work
for every patient.

We must remove the stigma around addiction and provide options that
start with keeping the patient alive; supervised consumption sites and
overdose prevention services do that. B.C. now has more than 25
overdose prevention and supervised consumption sites that witness
hundreds of visits a day and no deaths. All first responders, people
who use drugs, and friends and families of people who use drugs,
should be trained and equipped with naloxone, a life-saving
opioid-overdose reversal drug.

These services need to be connected to a system of care that provides
a range of therapies, including oral and injectable opioid agonist
therapy, counselling, and rehab services. These services should be
coupled with housing and employment supports. We desperately need to
educate our children about drug use and in a way that is not
fear-based. Finally, finding help with a treatment plan as soon as
possible should be much, much easier for families.

We should not pretend we can police our way out of the opioid crisis.
If one drug is eliminated, two more will take its place. We need
strategies that are evidence-based to keep more families from having
to bear the horrific loss of a loved one.

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Terry Lake, former British Columbia Minister of Health, is 
vice-president of Corporate Social Responsibility at Hydropothecary 
Corporation, a medical marijuana company based in Gatineau.
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