British Columbia health officials call for drug decriminalization

published on April 21, 2016 by Andrea Woo in The Globe and Mail

Top health officials in British Columbia are calling for a significant change in drug policy that would ensure people who use illicit drugs do not face criminal charges for it.

Dr. Perry Kendall, BC’s provincial health officer, said he supports decriminalization because treating users as criminals has been costly and ineffective.

“Focusing on people who have become dependent on drugs as criminals means we spend a lot of money on law enforcement, which doesn’t actually appear to have stemmed the appetite for drugs,” he said. “It hasn’t helped move people who are dependent on drugs into health-care facilities; in fact, they have become very marginalized over time. Because they are marginalized, their use of drugs has often gone up, and has been accompanied by HIV and hepatitis C infections.”

Dr. Kendall and other BC health officials’ call to decriminalize personal drug use and possession echoes that of the John Hopkins University – Lancet Commission on Public Health and International Drug Policy. The international commission of medical experts recently asserted that the “war on drugs” has undercut public health and resulted in collateral harms while doing little to affect drug markets or address drug use.

Canada and the United States are currently grappling with opioid-related crises; BC declared a public health emergency last week over a significant increase in illicit drug overdoses. In Kamloops on Thursday, fentanyl was suspected in six non-fatal overdoses in a couple of hours.

Dr. Patricia Daly, chief medical health officer and vice-president of public health for Vancouver Coastal Health, said she supports a regulatory approach to all psychoactive substances.

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