Is decriminalization the right step in stopping the overdose epidemic?
A Provincial Health officer’s report is calling for the decriminalization of drug use in B.C. to mitigate the overdose crisis.
The report entitled Stopping the Harm: Decriminalization of People Who Use Drugs in BC outlines how stigma leads drug users to hide their usage.
Author of the report Dr. Bonnie Henry said decriminalization would help turn the tide on the opioid crisis that’s claimed thousands of lives across the country.
“What I am looking for is a culture change. A commitment at the provincial level that this is the road we will take so that it reduces the discretionary use of the police services act.”
However, former police officer and current Prince George Mackenzie MLA Mike Morris said this is the wrong direction.
“When something is criminalized people automatically assume it’s bad, and you should not be doing that, and if that is removed then there is a lot of people out there in my estimation that will try it.”
He said the focus needs to be on getting people who are addicted to drugs to the right resources as soon as the police are notified.
The report addresses how the stigma of criminalization creates barriers to using harm reduction and treatment services; however, Morris said he does not believe that is necessarily the case.
Dr. Keith Ahamad, medical director with Vancouver Coastal Health says he witnesses the consequences of criminalizing people who use drugs every day.
“Decriminalization will empower our provincial leaders to implement a policy that will save lives and is a necessary step in creating this continuum of care and ending this terrible cycle of mistrust and stigma.”
With files from Sharon Vanhouwe