Toronto Public Health is recommending decriminalizing the possession of all drugs for personal use.
The agency says the city’s current approach to drug policy is not working, and the agency is making several recommendations in a report going before the Board of Health next week.
This report comes after drug policy consultation done in Toronto found that people are supportive of drug use being treated as a public health and social issue, not a criminal one.
The report will also recommend increasing prevention, harm reduction and treatment services, as well as recommend the board to ask the federal government to convene a task force to explore options for the legal regulation of drugs.
“While considerable work has been done, the situation remains urgent and too many people are still dying. These preventable deaths are affecting our family members, friends and colleagues, and we must do more,” Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health, said in a release on Monday.
“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. This is why I am calling on the federal government to take urgent action.”
Stephanie King, who says she’s been an addict for over 30 years, tells CityNews this report is the next step in addressing the epidemic that continues to worseN.
“I think if we are allowed to possess drugs for a personal use, I don’t see a problem with it,” she said. “Everything has benefits and downfalls. I think as an addict, we’re not all bad people, not all drugs are bad things if used properly.”
King said the city’s and country’s current drug policy approach still needs improvements, especially when it comes to regulations.
“I think if you understood drug addicts and what they’re about, and why they use, I think things would be much different,” she said. “Education would go a long way.”
The public consultation was done in response to the opioid crisis currently happening across the country. There were 303 opioid overdose deaths in Toronto last 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.
This comes just a few months before the federal government legalizes cannabis.
The recommendation would include decriminalizing the possession of all drugs, including harder substances such as heroin and fentanyl. It would not include selling or buying.
In a statement to CityNews, Mathieu Fillion, spokesman for the Office of the Minister of Health said the government is treating the opioid crisis as a public health issue and not a criminal one.
“We understand that stigma and barriers to treatment need to be reduced, and our Government has taken many initiatives in this regard. But we are not looking to decriminalize or legalize any drugs aside from cannabis,” he said.
In addition he said the government is launching a public education campaign aimed at addressing stigma and reducing barriers to treatment treatment. In the 2018 budget, over $230 million has been earmarked for investments “to bring forward evidence-based solutions to save lives.”
Toronto Public Health’s report will be presented to the Board of Health next Monday.