Federal Liberals: Address the Opioid Crisis by Decriminalizing!

Dear Liberal party members, Members of Parliament, and Prime Minister Trudeau:

Last year alone, more than four thousand Canadians died from overdose, according to federal health estimates. These deaths were preventable. Close to six thousand more will have died by the end of this year if the year-to-year 45% rate of increase continues. If the government had heeded the advice of those with lived experience, those working directly with those at-risk, and experts in public health, this crisis would not have grown the way it has. We continue to call for evidence-based, compassionate drug policies.

We recognize this government’s efforts to address the overdose epidemic: additional federal funding for treatment; regulatory changes to broaden the distribution of Naloxone; approving licensing for supervised consumption services; and providing a more enabling framework for overdose prevention sites.

These may go some way to mitigating the harm in the midst of this public health emergency. However, these measures are insufficient, as the crisis is currently worsening. Canada is losing more people to overdose then at the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

The devastating effect of this crisis has left thousands of Canadian families and communities forever impacted by the loss of their loved ones to overdose. Our country as a whole can expect long-lasting social, cultural, and economic impacts of losing thousands of people. Meanwhile, people who use substances continue to experience unjust reductions in quality of life, resulting from incarceration, criminal records, and systemic discrimination.

We urge you to be the progressive government you promised to be, choosing human rights and evidence-based policy over ideological relics. A resolution for sensible drug policy is on the agenda at the April 2018 federal Liberal convention. We wholly support this resolution and urge that you accept it as a party policy and quickly advance legislation to decriminalize low-level possession in accordance with that policy.

The proposed motion, “Address the Opioid Crisis Through a Public Health Approach,” states that, “The Government of Canada should treat drug abuse as a health issue, expand treatment and harm reduction services and re-classify low-level drug possession and consumption as administrative violations.”

As the world watches dated and harmful North American drug policies translate into the toxic drug market that experts predicted, we look to the sensible approaches of Portugal, the Netherlands, Czech Republic, Norway and others as examples that demonstrate a truly effective approach to health. We would expect a government that holds the dignity of people as a central value, to adopt the proposed policy resolution in the interests of the public’s health and safety. There is no excuse for delay.

As representatives, direct-service workers, family members, people who use drugs, professionals and researchers in related fields of healthcare and public health, and other citizens who have been impacted by this crisis, we demand our Federal government act on our experiential and expert knowledge and that our elected officials do not further delay an effective and timely response to this heath emergency.

We see the fatal impact of the criminalization of people who use drugs every day in our communities. As a result of the stigmas perpetuated by prohibition, we have a system which discriminates, oppresses, and continues to marginalize some of our country’s most vulnerable populations.

The overdose death crisis we currently face is a public health emergency and needs to be treated as such: as a healthcare issue, and not an epidemic of criminal behaviour. The impacts are not only on affected individuals, but the wider social and economic health of the country as well.

We need you to listen to our voices as we call for the essential next step: decriminalization. The example of Portugal and other European countries illustrates that this policy works.

We ask you to prevent thousands of more unnecessary deaths by supporting this resolution.

national committee