Toronto continues to await decision to decriminalize drugs

TORONTO — As Toronto waits to hear whether the federal government will approve its request to decriminalize possession of illegal drugs for personal use, advocates for harm reduction believe that the government will continue to fight the opioid crisis. It states that approval is urgently needed because it has failed to address the seriousness of the

This week marks seven months since the city sent Ottawa a decriminalization request. That’s the same time it took the federal government to approve a similar request from British Columbia.

Health Canada said the application is under review and that such requests will be “reviewed carefully and thoroughly on a case-by-case basis.”

But Harm Reduction activists say the rising number of opioid deaths underscores the need for action.

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“I don’t feel any urgency. You can see the complacency of the status quo,” said Dan Werb, director of the Toronto-based Center for Drug Policy Evaluation.

“It has been seven years since the epidemic of potent opioid overdoses. We have all the data we need at this point. I see them responding in ways they haven’t.”

Toronto has asked Health Canada for exemptions for personal drug use in the city under its Controlled Substances Act, but overdose deaths have spiked during the pandemic. , more than 1,000 people died of overdose in the city. This is almost double the number of deaths reported in the last two years.

The city and advocates agree that decriminalization alone will not be enough to address the opioid crisis.

Toronto plans to apply a decriminalization model envisioning expanded access to social assistance, including housing, and a safer supply program to provide pharmaceutical-grade opioid alternatives to street supply. presented.

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Toronto urges federal government to decriminalize possession of illegal drugs for personal use

But Warb said the application plank remains “ambitious” without adequate funding from state and federal governments.

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Public Health Toronto said it has been in ongoing discussions with Health Canada since submitting the application on January 4.

If granted, the waiver would decriminalize drug possession for personal use in Toronto. But which drugs and in what amounts is still an open question, with advocates urging the federal government to avoid what they call the failures made with British Columbia exemptions. .

Ottawa was widely criticized by harm reduction advocates after setting the private ownership threshold at 2.5 grams, nearly half the amount the state requested. The federal government said the decision was made based on police opinion.

Proponents say low thresholds may keep those with the highest opioid dependence threatened with criminalization.

“It just strikes me as an irrational fear, a kind of fear that seems to be motivated by law enforcement concerns,” Wave said.

Toronto’s request avoids asking for a specific threshold.

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Toronto urges federal government to decriminalize possession of illegal drugs for personal use

According to a summary of the city’s consultations with drug users, uniform thresholds may overlook a range of tolerance and purchasing practices, such as those who share drugs or buy in bulk to receive discounts. be.

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BC’s waiver sets out a list of exempt drugs, while Toronto calls for the decriminalization of all drugs.

Public health researcher Jillian Kolla says this is an important distinction, especially given the volatility of the street supply of opioids.

She points out that opioids can be curtailed with drugs not on the BC list, leaving the possibility of a person being arrested if a drug sample tests positive for a non-exempt substance.

“Relying primarily on this enforcement-based approach is what we know we are not functioning as a society to address harm from drug use, and how we can approach decriminalization. It continues to be a problem in the United States,” said Cora, a Toronto-based research fellow at the University of Victoria’s Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research.

Toronto police said they could not discuss the details of the waiver application. A spokesperson said the police support a “Toronto-made alternative to criminalization.”

The Toronto Public Health Department said that if the waiver is granted, it expects “significant lead time for an implementation plan similar to that provided for BC.” It will go into effect at the end of January after the month.

Vancouver filed its own decriminalization request five months before BC made its statewide request. After BC’s exemption was granted, the city of Vancouver sent a letter to Health Canada asking it to suspend consideration of the city’s proposal, according to Health Canada.

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A notable difference between the BC and Toronto applications is the Ontario government’s “painful silence,” said Angela Robertson, executive director of Parkdale Queen West Community Health Center.

“Unfortunately, state waivers are not being considered. But at this time, given the crisis, we will continue to take what we can and try to do more,” Robertson said. .

Ontario’s Department of Health highlighted recent investments in addiction treatment as part of its harm reduction program in response to a question about its position on Toronto’s decriminalization application.

© 2022 Canadian Press

Toronto continues to await decision to decriminalize drugs

Source link Toronto continues to await decision to decriminalize drugs

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