LETTER: ‘Misinformed debate’ on drugs not saving lives

“We must see the humanity in our fellow community members and support their calls to action,” says the letter writer.

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This week, federal Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre was expelled from the House of Commons for unparliamentary language – referring to the prime minister as “a bastard”. While there is much to be said for the worrying travesty that Question Period has become, let’s drag the discussion back to what MPs should be focusing on: drugs. Specifically, toxic drug and overdose crises, preventable deaths of substance users, and decriminalization.

Misinformed debate does not save lives. While the Tories are busy firing at the Prime Minister, using stigmatizing language against people who use drugs and convincing people that decriminalization is to blame, people are dying. There have been at least 40 suspected drug-related deaths in Simcoe-Muskoka since January 2024, or about one every three days. Thousands more die each year across the country.

Drug decriminalization is not the harbinger of doom it is purported to be – inaction and the continuation of the decades-long failed war on drugs is. If we want to take serious action against these drug crises that affect so many communities, we need to have a serious conversation. We need to treat this as a health issue rather than a criminal one.

The three-year pilot project in British Columbia should do what it is intended to do and inform Canada’s approach. Terminating the pilot program early will not allow us to properly judge its effects – although we know from more than a dozen other countries that decriminalization is working. It may also prematurely forestall requests for a similar pilot in Toronto and Montréal. It could even further strengthen governments like Ontario to delay funding more supervised consumer sites. Barrie has already waited three years too long.

Most importantly, this BC request and the misinformed debate surrounding it will do more harm than good to those who are actively using it.

We must see the humanity in our fellow community members and support their calls to action. Advocates, public health and addictions experts and leading organizations from the Canadian Mental Health Association to the Canadian Center on Substance Use and Dependence have supported calls for a health-based approach that reduces harm. Even Benjamin Perrin, former legal adviser to former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, supports these calls.

People who use substances are our neighbors, friends and loved ones. It is time to treat them as such with compassion, informed discussion and action. Anything less will only bring more injustice.

Brandon Rhéal Amyot

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