How should we handle the toxic drug-supply crisis? Experts weigh in.

From Healthy Debate

Recent news coverage has highlighted the deepening divide in the politics of the toxic drug-supply crisis.

In Alberta, the United Conservative Party is moving ahead with plans to enact the controversial Compassionate Intervention Act. The act gives police and family members the ability to refer adults and youth into involuntary substance-use treatment if they “pose a risk to themselves and others.”

The province has said those referred to the “intervention commission” would be offered several services, including addiction treatment, and that enlisting would be voluntary in most cases. But others have criticized the act, calling it a violation of Charter rights.

In the past few months, publications like the National Post have run several stories that have been critical of safer-supply programs. Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre has called on the Liberal government to cancel its safer-supply program and instead put resources toward treatment. However, many experts have highlighted the shortcomings of recovery-oriented strategies alone.

In 2022, 7,328 people in Canada died from opioid toxicity, an average of 20 people per day. Among those, 87 per cent of deaths occurred in British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario.

While political debates have muddied the water on effective policy options to address toxic drug deaths, we asked a panel of experts what they see as the best path forward to address the ongoing crisis.

Zoe Dodd: When we debate things like safe supply, I think we stop having the conversation about what is actually the problem, which is that people never overdosed like this until we had a toxic drug supply. A policy change that we need to embrace is looking at legalization and regulation. This is what safe supply is ultimately doing.

The other thing that is really important in all of this is that for a lot of people who struggle around substance use, loss can be one of the bigger factors that drives them to use in particular ways. We are in a situation where we have whole families of people who have died, friends, and trying to live with that much grief and loss is a contributing factor for why people use in particular ways.

For me, harm reduction is a pragmatic approach. It’s not a left or right thing, but it’s being used as a political wedge. It’s very difficult to implement policies when there is a very hard drug-war narrative in the background and this idea that people just need to stop using drugs. Even in the face of this incredibly toxic supply, people are still using drugs. This speaks to how we need to move away from this kind of rhetoric and way of thinking because it’s not working. If we’re going to change the course of the crisis, then we need to implement policies that won’t kill people and stop spending money in ways that fund the drug war.

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