Canada health official: Decriminalize all drugs

Toronto’s chief medical officer calls for decriminalization of all personal drug use

Toronto public health officials say the federal government should decriminalize all drugs for personal use in an effort to fight the opioid epidemic that has claimed hundreds of lives in recent years.

A June report from Toronto Public Health also called on the province to add legal protection for the city's supervised injection sites for 12 months at a time as opposed to six, and add more "managed opioid programs", which would prescribe controlled amounts of opioids to people who would otherwise use street drugs potentially laced with fentanyl.

"While considerable work has been done, the situation remains urgent and too many people are still dying", said De Villa in a statement.

"The evidence on the health and social harms of our current criminalization approach to illegal drugs as well as that of alternative approaches such as decriminalization and legal regulation strongly support the need to shift to a public health approach to drugs in Canada", the report stated.

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"The criminalization of people who take drugs is contributing to the overdose emergency because it forces people into unsafe drug use practices and creates barriers to seeking help". Last year, almost 4,000 Canadians died due to opioids - more than the number of Canadians who died due to motor vehicle accidents and homicides combined. De Villa's report seems to agree. There were 303 opioid overdose deaths in Toronto previous year - a 63 per cent increase from 2016 and a 121 per cent increase from 2015 - according to Toronto Public Health, citing preliminary data from the Office of the Chief Coroner of Ontario.

Dr.de Villa made those recommendations to the Toronto board of health, asking it to put pressure on the provincial and federal governments.

De Villa is also urging the federal government to consider going one step further, striking a task force that could explore the idea of legalising and strictly regulating all drugs, echoing the approach now used for alcohol.

The report will be presented to the Board of Health next Monday.

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