Government must stop ignoring drug poisoning crisis and support an evidence-based public health approach
Yesterday, the government of Canada approved the British Columbia government’s request to decriminalize small-scale personal possession of illicit drugs, starting next year. This policy change is one part of a wider public health and harm reduction approach to the ongoing drug poisoning crisis. In response, Premier Kenney put out a late evening, highly politically charged statement attacking the decision.
“Premier Kenney likes to quote statistics. Well, a statistic he left out is that here in Alberta, 2021 was our deadliest year yet for fatal drug poisonings and it looks like 2022 will be worse,” said Chris Gallaway, executive director of Friends of Medicare. “The reality is that under his government’s leadership, Albertans are dying in record numbers: 5 people every single day.”
In response to this escalating crisis of deaths, Friends of Medicare, as well as many other community groups, health experts, and concerned Albertans have continuously called on this government to act to save lives, but have been repeatedly ignored.
“Yesterday’s statement from Premier Kenney was a slap in the face to the thousands of Albertans who have needlessly lost their lives under his watch, and the families, friends and community members who continue to mourn their loss,” said Gallaway. “Rather than doubling down with highly torqued political rhetoric, the Premier must do his job and treat this like the public health crisis that it is, starting by reversing this government’s deadly attacks on life-saving harm reduction programs.”
Later today, the House of Commons will be voting on Private Members Bill C-216, tabled by NDP MP Gord Johns. The bill would decriminalize simple possession, and outlines a national health-based strategy to reduce harm. This is an evidence-based public health approach that would allow people who use drugs to seek help when and how they need it, without fear of prosecution. The bill has widespread support from stakeholders and thousands of Canadians who have signed an online petition spearheaded by Moms Stop the Harm.
“This public health crisis has been allowed to continue unaddressed for far too long. People are dying for access to supports, and doing so in record numbers," said Gallaway. “Hollow talk of abstinence-only ‘recovery,’ while doubling down on ideological rhetoric far removed from the reality of those in our communities does not and will not save lives. Our governments must act decisively, by supporting harm reduction efforts, safe consumption services, safe supply and by moving forward with decriminalization.”
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