Seven months on, Toronto awaits drug decriminalization decision

From the Toronto Star article

As Toronto waits to hear whether the federal government will grant its request to decriminalize the possession of illicit drugs for personal use, harm reduction advocates say approval is urgently needed as governments fail to match the gravity of the opioid crisis.

This week marks seven months since the city sent its decriminalization request to Ottawa, the same amount of time it took for the federal government to greenlight a similar request from British Columbia.

Health Canada says the application is being examined, noting that such requests are “carefully and thoroughly reviewed on a case-by-case basis.”

But harm reduction workers say a rise in opioid deaths has underscored the need for action.

“I see no urgency. I see complacency,” said Dan Werb, director at the Toronto-based Centre on Drug Policy Evaluation, which was contracted by the city to help work on the decriminalization request.

“We’re seven years into this epidemic of overdose driven by high-potency opioids. We have all the data we need at this point. And we’re looking at a government that is delaying responding, and also responding in ways that do not actually engage with the thing that is killing people.”

Toronto – which asked Health Canada for an exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act for personal drug use in the city – has seen a spike in overdose deaths during the pandemic. More than 1,000 people in the city died from overdoses in 2020 and 2021, almost double the number of reported deaths in the two previous years.

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