B.C.’s provincial health officer (PHO) is calling for the decriminalization of people who use drugs.
That means possession of illegal drugs for personal use would not lead to criminal justice penalties like incarceration or a criminal record.
PHO Dr. Bonnie Henry has released her report titled Stopping the Harm: Decriminalization of People Who Use Drugs in B.C., as part of an effort to mitigate the provincial overdose crisis.
The report provides evidence and information on how the decriminalization of people who possess illegal drugs for personal use could help turn the tide on the overdose crisis, which was declared a public health emergency three years ago.
"Experts, including people with lived experience, agree that our existing drug laws are further stigmatizing people living with addiction, a chronic, relapsing health condition," says Henry in a news release.
"The decriminalization of people who are in possession of drugs for personal use is the next logical and responsible step we must take to keep people alive and connect them to the health and social supports they need."
The report outlines how stigma leads many people who use drugs to hide their usage and creates barriers to using harm reduction and treatment services and how prohibition-based drug policies and strategies are significant contributors to the deep-rooted shame and blame associated with illegal drug use.
Evidence in the report shows that criminalizing people who use drugs does more harm than good and argues decriminalization is a way for law enforcement to help people living with addiction connect to the supports they need.
"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 says.
"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."
You can read the full report online.