Researcher wants to change the way Canadians talk about drugs

published on March 20, 2018 in Vernon Morning Star

While there are no easy answers when it comes to solving British Columbia’s opioid crisis — renowned researcher Cheyenne Johnson says much can be done to improve the situation if we’re willing to change our approach.

Johnson, who is the Director of Clinical Activities and Development at the British Columbia Centre on Substance Use and the Canadian Research Initiative in Substance Misuse, spoke candidly on the subject during a recent lecture she gave at Okanagan College in Vernon, entitled Beyond opioids: the overdose crisis—how did we get here?

“We’re in a crisis that is not being treated like one,” Johnson told the audience of nearly 100.

Since 2016, she said there have been a total of almost 2,200 overdose deaths. In 2017 alone, she added, there were over 1,200 confirmed overdose deaths.

In her 1.5-hour talk, the North Okanagan-raised researcher stressed that shifting attitudes toward addiction, recovery and policy reform are the key to progress.

Citing Portugal’s approach to drug policy as a key example, Johnson said during the 1980s and 90s, the European country was ravaged by a heroin epidemic that affected approximately one per cent of the country’s entire population.

In 2001 Portugal became the first country to decriminalize the possession and consumption of all illicit substances. Rather than being arrested, those caught with a personal supply might be given a warning, a small fine, or told to appear before a local commission about treatment, harm reduction, and the support services that were available to them.

Over time, according to the 2016 United Nations World Drug report, the drug crisis in Portugal stabilized to the point where they have the one of the lowest fatal overdose rates in the world.

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