The provincial health officer (PHO) is calling on decriminalizing possession of illicit drugs for personal use as a way to turn the tide in B.C.’s overdose crisis.
Dr. Bonnie Henry released a report Wednesday morning titled “Stopping the Harm: Decriminalization of People Who Use Drugs in BC”.
Henry says evidence shows incarceration and criminal records for people who use drugs does more harm than good, with prohibition-based drug policies and strategies that significantly contribute to “deep-rooted shame and blame” for illegal drug consumers.
The report said stigma leads many people to use drugs, creating barriers for harm reduction and treatment services.
“We are scaling up evidence-based treatment and recovery services like opioid agonist treatment, harm reduction measures and the provision of a safer drug supply,” Henry said in a statement.
“But we need to do more. We need to decriminalize people in possession of controlled substances for personal use so that we can protect them from the highly-toxic street drug supply and curtail the mounting number of preventable overdose deaths in B.C.”
In a government release, Abbotsford Police Chief Mike Serr said supporting illicit drug users is more effective through a public health strategy, instead of the criminal justice system.
“We will continue to target those who import, produce and distribute illicit street drugs; however, arresting for personal possession will not decrease the demand for street drugs. We need to increase treatment, prevention and education strategies to effect real change,” Serr said in a statement.
The PHO declared the overdose crisis a public health emergency three years ago.
Suspected illicit drugs overdose deaths have claimed more than 3,000 lives in B.C. since the start of 2017, according to BC Coroners Service statistics.
The province says more than 115,000 people live with opioid use disorder in B.C., but only a small percentage are receiving treatment.