B.C.’s drug-use policies and policing have contributed to the toxic drug crisis, says Sana Shahram, PhD, assistant professor at the College of Nursing at UBCO.
She explained that the government’s immediate response to the toxic drug crisis should have been to decriminalize personal use and to provide a safe supply of drugs.
“What we need to do is realize that the war on drugs is a failed policy.”
Prohibition and the vigilant policing of drug possession was implemented in an effort to decrease crime and drug use in Canadian cities.
However, despite the strict policing, crime rates and drug-related deaths have continued to rise across the country.
Since January 2016, when the crisis was declared, over 29,000 Canadians have died from opioid-related causes, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.
Shahram explained that the “prolonged war on drugs” is not based in evidence.
A government’s choice to implement policy that is based in evidence or prohibition is largely what drives the harms that are associated with drugs.
She said that policy has led to a toxic drug supply where anyone who uses drugs is impacted since they don’t know what’s in their drugs.
Safe supply, and the decriminalization of drugs is needed to stop preventable deaths, said Shahram.
“We could do that yesterday and we should do it today.”
Safe consumption sites and safe supply is not a new concept. Bars, liquor stores and cannabis shops are examples of government-regulated mood and mind-altering substances being sold to mitigate harm.
When people buy a bottle of liquor they know its concentration, the ingredients, and the risk associated with its consumption. Drug-users don’t have that luxury. A bag of cocaine can be stronger than usual or have harmful additives, like fentanyl, unbeknownst to the consumer.
Trying to get to a world where nobody uses anything is not realistic, said Shahram. People have always used mood and mind altering substances like alcohol, opioids and caffeine, and will continue to do so, regardless of legality.
The strict policing of drugs has wasted public resources and public money and contributed to preventable deaths.