Home LATEST NEWS HEALTH Decriminalization of drugs: Toronto could ask the federal government directly

Decriminalization of drugs: Toronto could ask the federal government directly

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The report, signed by Dr. Eileen de Villa, was released to the public on Monday and will be presented to the Toronto Board of Health at its next meeting on December 6.

The status quo in the face of the drug poisoning crisis is not working , explains Dr. de Villa in the document, which notes a dramatic increase of 81% in the number of fatal overdoses in 2020 compared to the previous year.

From 2015 to 2020, 1,618 people died after using drugs according to data from the City of Toronto, with a growing role of ultra-potent opioids.

If approved by Council, Dr. de Villa will formally ask Health Canada to exempt people within the geographic boundaries of Toronto from all criminal charges for possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use. Drug trafficking, including production and sale, would remain illegal.

Dr. Eileen de Villa at a press briefing.

Dr. Eileen de Villa has repeatedly called on Ottawa to decriminalize drug possession. While the opioid crisis is national in scope, this time around, she is calling for Toronto to be granted an exemption from the application of criminal penalties.

Photo: CBC / Evan Mitsui

Toronto Public Health had already urged Ottawa to act in this direction in 2018 and has repeated this message several times since. But faced with the health emergency of the situation, the Queen City will this time aim to obtain an exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act rather than waiting for a national amendment.

In early November, British Columbia approached the federal government for a similar request.

Funding demanded from all levels of government

Toronto Police and Mayor support the public health initiative. For John Tory, it’s about ensuring a strong addiction health care support system […] that are not currently in place or have too many barriers to access.

Dr. de Villa’s report calls for federal and provincial funding to establish this system of support for people struggling with drug addiction. It also recommends that Health Canada provide standardized, controlled heroin to make it more available to consumers.

For Jason Stateman, a Torontonian who has struggled with drug addiction for twenty years, decriminalization is the way to take.

A man with an audio headset.

Jason Stateman says he lost several acquaintances in recent years in Toronto following overdoses.

Photo: CBC

People are charged while under the influence of drugs, he said. It’s a medical problem.

Those who use don’t because they like it. They do it because they have to. They are sick and they are on the verge of death or suicide.

A quote from Jason Stateman, consumer

The head of addiction services at the Center for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, Dr. Leslie Buckley, agrees.

With the current rules, consumers go into hiding out of fear of consuming in public or bringing their substance to a supervised consumption site, which is the worst thing , she says.

We’re talking about substances that are so dangerous, you don’t want to use them alone.

A quote from Leslie Buckley, Addiction Physician and Psychiatrist, Head of Addictions Division at CAMH

Many of the products that consumers have access to are adulterated, cut or composed of different sedatives , she testifies.

So reducing stigma through decriminalization and increasing supportive and preventive services could encourage consumers to seek help. would be really helpful, before more preventable deaths occur.

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