Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer (PHO), has released her report entitled Stopping the Harm: Decriminalization of People Who Use Drugs in BC, 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. The PHO urges the provincial government to consider decriminalization of people who use drugs, which means possession of illegal drugs for personal use would not lead to criminal justice penalties like incarceration or a criminal record.
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. Prohibition-based drug policies and strategies are significant contributors to the deep-rooted shame and blame associated with illegal drug use.
“The decriminalization of people who possess illicit substances for their own use, whether de facto or legal, is not only a compassionate way to treat people, it takes a big step towards reducing the stigma around drug use,” notes Leslie McBain, founder, Moms Stop the Harm. “Why do we criminalize people who have a medical condition? Being thrust into the criminal justice system has never been an answer to drug possession or problematic drug use. And the costs of that approach are not only in dollars and cents, it also ruins people’s lives.”
Evidence shows that criminalizing people who use drugs does more harm than good. Decriminalization is a way for law enforcement to help people living with addiction connect to the supports they need.
- At least 30 countries – including Portugal, Australia, Spain, Uruguay, Norway, Chile and some U.S. jurisdictions – are exploring, or have in place, an alternative policy option that decriminalizes people for simple possession and use of controlled substances.
- In 2001, Portugal adopted a decriminalization approach to drug possession for personal use in response to an unprecedented growth in heroin addiction, overdose and HIV.
- Over 3,000 people in B.C. have died by overdose in the last two years.
- It is estimated that over 115,000 people are living with opioid use disorder in B.C., while only a small percentage are receiving treatment.