THOMPSON: Is the decriminalization of small amounts of illegal drugs a mistake? | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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THOMPSON: Is the decriminalization of small amounts of illegal drugs a mistake?



Often desperation drives solutions to problems. More than 11,000 people have died in British Columbia from drug overdoses since 2016. As of Jan. 31, those 18 years old and older can have up to 2.5 grams of fentanyl, heroin, methamphetamine, morphine, cocaine or MDMA (AKA Ecstasy) without breaking the law…or having the drugs confiscated.

Researchers and drug users claim 2.5 grams is too low…and will likely lead users to still rely on the black market. Originally, the province requested a 4.5-gram limit, while the RCMP recommended one gram, so it appears the feds more or less split the difference.

Regardless, rather than face a felony conviction…those carrying the drugs will be offered information on available health and social services…and help. Drug trafficking - possessing above 2.5 grams - remains a felony offence.

The use of hard drugs and overdoses are such pressing problems that the Federal government is allowing B.C. to try the innovative approach for three years…hoping thousands of lives might be saved. Fentanyl in particular has been a game changer the past few years. It’s 50 to 100 times more potent than heroin…it’s cheaper…and it’s almost as easy to find as Advil.

Carolyn Bennett, the nation’s minister of mental health and addictions, said allowing a personal use amount is "a monumental shift in drug policy that favours fostering trusting and supportive relationships in health and social services over further criminalization".

Some critics say decriminalization is a mistake. Others say it didn’t go far enough…just 2.5 grams? We have been debating the issues for nearly seven years…when drug use and overdoses were declared a national emergency.

Only time will tell whether the new program will address and overcome the shame and stigma associated with drug use and make people more comfortable to reach out for help. Critics, including public health experts, say the odds for success aren’t good.

The province’s experimental approaches have a long history…going back to 1959, when the world’s first methadone clinic opened in B.C. Since then, other programs that removed the criminal stigma from drug use to get users to address underlying social, economic and mental health issues have been only marginally effective.

Drug use is not an easy nut to crack. On top of the addictive nature of the drugs, the greed incentive of making illicit drugs is a huge. Fentanyl is being made by amateurs…who neither care about who’s using it…nor the precision with which they make it.

Across the border in Portland, Oregon, police seized 92,000 illicit pills in a single traffic stop last year…and testing found 42 percent contained lethal doses of fentanyl. Fentanyl that saturates the West Coast of the U.S., of course, also makes its way into Canada.

Clearly, decriminalization is part of the solution…a brick in the wall. But we’re going to need a lot more bricks. Tainted drugs on the black market…and a greed incentive…chip away at the wall. We need every tool in the tool box…if we want to save a thousand or so folks a year.

A lot more funding is needed to fill gaps not covered by the positive step of decriminalization. For example, with fentanyl as the leading overdose problem…we need four or five times as many clean syringes and naloxone as we have. One injection of naloxone might bring an overdosed heroin addict back…but it can take three or four shots for a fentanyl user who overdosed to survive.

Sadly, some people don’t follow the news…good or bad…and are blind to the problems of drug addiction and overdoses. So, it might seem unbelievable…but even more funding is needed for information and prevention campaigns, especially targeting teens and 20-something adults. We need to do a better job of reaching them through traditional medical, social media and other communications used by young folks.

Think about losing 11,000 people since 2016…just in B.C. These are desperate times. If we’re really serious and care about our fellow citizens…we’ll throw everything we’ve got behind this issue and save good people.

Or, we can look the other way…judge others harshly because they got themselves into the problem…pretend it just doesn’t matter because we don’t know them.

But, I don’t know…that’s just not the Canada I’ve come to know and love.

— Don Thompson, an American awaiting Canadian citizenship, lives in Vernon and in Florida. In a career that spans more than 40 years, Don has been a working journalist, a speechwriter and the CEO of an advertising and public relations firm. A passionate and compassionate man, he loves the written word as much as fine dinners with great wines.

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