Huge Canadian health group calls for decriminalization of illicit drugs

TORONTO (NEWS 1130) – Mainstream support for the decriminalization of all illegal substances for personal use has been growing in Canada, with the federal NDP and the national Liberal caucus recently signalling support for the idea.

Now, one of the largest and oldest health organizations in the country is adding its support as well.

In a newly-released policy paper, the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) says decriminalizing drugs is key to solving an opioid crisis which killed over 1,400 people across BC in 2017 alone.

“Given the scale of the opioid crisis in Canada, we know that we need bold action, and we know that evidence tells us that the war on drugs hasn’t worked,” says Kendra Milne, a senior director of policy planning and government relations at the CMHA’s BC division.

“We know that criminalization really stigmatizes people, and it creates barriers for them accessing treatment and accessing help when they need it.”

The paper, developed by a cross-Canada team of mental health policy and research experts, aims to shift the approach to stopping the opioid crisis towards public health instead of criminal corrections.

More broadly, the CMHA is calling for a dynamic, multi-layered plan to curb the opioid crisis, including more investment in harm reduction and treatment, greater social supports to address the root causes of drug abuse, and a better way for doctors to treat chronic pain.

“I think it’s most important that we base our health policies on evidence, and not on judgements and stereotypes and stigma around people who use drugs,” Milne adds.

Decriminalization is not the same as legalization, meaning the production, supply, and sale of drugs like cocaine, heroin, and fentanyl would still be a crime.

Portugal decriminalized psychoactive substances for personal use in 2001, resulting in a 60 percent increase in users seeking treatment over the first decade.

The opioid crisis is now taking the lives of more Canadians per year than the HIV epidemic did at its height in 1995.

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