Toronto’s medical officer of health wants to decriminalize possession of small amounts of illegal drugs in the city in order to fight the opioid overdose crisis – and she has the backing of the local police chief.
A report by Dr. Eileen de Villa to the city board of health recommends asking the federal government to allow simple possession of all drugs.
It also calls on the province to increase funding to help expand harm reduction services, increase the reach of overdoses beyond homeless shelters to parks and drop-ins, and provide mobile services. drug use outside the city center.
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“The current approach to the drug poisoning crisis is not working and we continue to see preventable tragic results,” de Villa said in a statement.
“This is why we are aligning ourselves with other jurisdictions and recommending decriminalizing the possession of all drugs for personal use and bringing all people who use drugs into contact with health and social supports. “
Toronto Police Chief James Ramer said in a letter to de Villa that the force supported a new approach to drug criminalization.
“We agree that the current approach to drug use management does not support safe communities or advance the health of people who use drugs,” Ramer wrote.
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“Decriminalizing simple possession of all drugs, combined with scaling up prevention, harm reduction and treatment services, is a more effective way to address the associated public health and safety harms. substance use.
Ramer said a decriminalization model should also include a safe supply of drugs, which healthcare workers have been asking for for years.
De Villa is asking for an exemption from a section of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act that would only apply to people living in the city.
She recommends that the city make the request by the end of the year. The Toronto board of health is expected to consider its report on Dec.6.
The report says there were 531 deaths from opioid toxicity in 2020, which is an 81% increase from 2019.
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The city, like the rest of the province, is in the midst of a worsening deadly opioid crisis, which was dramatically exacerbated during the pandemic.
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Paramedics responded to 5,776 suspected opioid overdose calls over a one-year period between November 1, 2020 and October 31, 2021, a 61% increase from the same period the previous year.
There were 351 deaths, according to paramedic data during that period, up 53% from the same period the year before.
De Villa said the increase is due to several factors, including the “toxic nature of the unregulated drug supply, as well as pandemic-related service cuts and physical distancing requirements.”
Vancouver made the same decriminalization request to Health Canada, de Villa noted.
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The mayors of Ontario’s major cities, a group representing the leaders of populated municipalities, have also urged the move in recent months.
Jeff Lehman, mayor of Barrie, Ont., And chairman of the group of mayors, said the province and the federal government must treat the problem as a public health problem, not a criminal matter.
“We have a federal government that seems interested,” Lehman said in a recent interview.
“It may be a little more difficult to convince the Ontario government because I think so far they have had a little more application and less public health approach. And we’re going to have to push over there to get them to change that. “
He said they can’t really decriminalize drugs without offering more processing capacity as well.
“We could make it worse, so that’s where the province really comes in,” Lehman said.
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He said the time has come to work on the opioid epidemic, especially given the familiarity of Ontarians with the importance of public health.
“We have sort of another epidemic, but it’s not spread by a virus,” Lehman said.
“It’s spread through drug use, but it’s an epidemic that kills almost as many and just like COVID we need to take a public health approach and maybe that’s why I’m hearing more understanding and support for this approach in general. “
The Ontario Ministry of Health has said it will review recommendations from municipalities and is committed to tackling the opioid crisis.
He said he has allocated $ 30 million to up to 21 consumption and treatment sites and has invested $ 32.7 million for “targeted addiction services and supports, including treatment and care. opioid use disorders ”.
The federal government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Toronto hopes to decriminalize possession of illicit drugs for personal use
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