BCCSU statement on decriminalization of people who use drugs
published on July 9, 2020
Dr. Bonnie Henry’s 2019 report, “Stopping the Harm,” detailed how the war on drugs has failed to reduce drug use, and instead has had unintended consequences such as fostering a mistrust with the health system and discouraging people who need and want care from seeking it.
Criminalization stigmatizes people who use drugs, who are regularly discriminated against and turned away by health-care providers who don’t understand that substance use is a health issue, not a criminal justice one.
Additional changes to law enforcement practices to support decriminalization should include ending street checks, red zoning, the displacement of homeless people, and other measures that negatively impact drug users.
A public health approach to substance use that promotes health and equity for people who use drugs must involve decriminalization and pharmaceutical alternatives to the toxic drug supply, alongside investments in an evidence-based substance use system of care to support recovery, treatment, and harm reduction services. Together, these would represent a critical step toward ending this public health emergency.