HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Canada Faces Its Own Opioid Crisis. It Should
Pubdate: Tue, 15 Sep 2020
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2020 The Washington Post Company
Author: David Moscrop


In July, the Canadian province of British Columbia experienced its
fifth straight month with more than 100 overdose deaths - and its
third above 170 lives lost.

Globally, the World Health Organization reports approximately 500,000
deaths from drugs, over 70 percent of them tied to opioids. In Canada,
from January 2016 through December 2019, more than 15,000 people died
from apparent opioid-related causes. In 2019 alone, there were over
21,000 "suspected opioid-related overdoses" across nine provinces and
territories, excluding Quebec (for which data wasn't provided). The
opioid crisis clearly persists at home and abroad.

The covid-19 pandemic has further complicated existing challenges,
including ensuring users have access to a safe supply, stigma-free
communities and treatment programs, should they wish to access them.
While no policy or program is a panacea, evidence-based measures can
reduce harm and save lives. One such measure is the decriminalization
of drugs, which evidence suggests facilitates treatment for those who
want it, helps efficiently direct scarce health-care and
justice-system resources, and ultimately saves lives.

Canada isn't pursuing such a policy, but it should -

In a recent interview, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rebuffed calls
for the decriminalization of narcotics, inaccurately implying those
who advocate for it suggest it's a "silver bullet." No one says it is.
But it's clever political cover to caricature and pivot to other
solutions - as if they were mutually exclusive - as Trudeau did in
focusing on a safe drug supply (which is also a good idea).

The prime minister's opposition to decriminalization is inconsistent
with his pretense of caring about evidence-based policymaking. But his
intransigency in the face of the facts is consistent with his record
on the issue. As reported by Travis Lupick, in 2015, before he was
prime minster, Trudeau visited the University of British Columbia,
where he voiced his support for safe injection sites but rejected the
logical corollary of decriminalization.

Journalist Sam Fenn asked the Liberal leader, "What do you have to say
about the prohibition of heroin, crack cocaine, crystal
methamphetamine?" Trudeau replied, "I disagree with loosening any of
the prohibition on harder drugs," continuing "I think that there is
much that we can and should be doing around harm reduction. =85 And I am
firm on the fact marijuana needs to be controlled and regulated and
that prohibition isn't working. But I'm not in favor of loosening
restrictions on harder drugs."

Fenn pressed Trudeau, suggesting - correctly - that experts indicate
ending prohibitions on drugs would serve harm reduction. "Then I'll
allow them, academics, to play with definitions. I believe in harm
reduction, but I don't believe in decriminalizing harder drugs," said

So it's no surprise that now that he's prime minister, Trudeau
continues to refuse to make the evidence-based decision to
decriminalize narcotics, as has been recommended by the World Health
Organization, the United Nations, Canada's police chiefs, the Canadian
Centre on Substance Abuse and Addiction, the premier of British
Columbia and Trudeau's own party. Federal prosecutors have even been
told to limit prosecutions of possession charges.

To his credit, Trudeau supports safe injection sites, and the federal
government recently funded two of them in Toronto. Ottawa is also
funding pilot treatment programs while working on safe supply efforts
and other measures. But those efforts and measures aren't enough.

Alongside the prime minister's objection to decriminalization in and
of itself, there are political concerns. Decriminalization cannot
exist in a vacuum. Canada is a federation, and without the provinces
on board, federal decriminalization efforts could be complicated or
undermined. Municipalities will need to be prepared. Treatment
programs and those who deliver them will need to be put in order. Yet
none of these points is a reason for decriminalization to not be pursued.

Electorally, some assume that decriminalization would spell political
doom. I don't buy it. For one, there's plenty of political cover by
way of high-profile supporters of decriminalization, plus a minority
Parliament chock full of members on the left (and perhaps the right,
should they be feeling brave and bold and smart) who'd back a
good-faith effort. More to the point, we elect members of Parliament
to lead, and we expect governments to do so. Courageous leadership
means leading opinion instead of following it.

Someday, drugs will be decriminalized in Canada - if not by this prime
minister, then by another. But the sooner the law changes, the sooner
harm will be reduced, and the more lives will be saved. If Trudeau
cannot or will not come up with a plan to get this work done as prime
minister, then the country deserves a new one.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt