Ontario health official: Decriminalize all drugs

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

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

Toronto's chief medical officer of health is calling on the federal government to decriminalize the personal use of all drugs as part of a strategy to treat addiction as a public health matter.

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.

De Villa's stance comes after widespread public consultation that suggested many in Toronto don't believe the current approach to drugs is working.

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

"The criminalisation 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", said De Villa.

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. "Not only do Canada's drug laws need to be changed, but we need to scale up prevention, harm reduction and treatment services to ensure we can provide the supports that people require".

The idea of treating drugs as a public health and social issue rather than a criminal one has been steadily gaining steam across Canada.

Drug problems can affect everyone, said Dr.de Villa, but marginalized people are hit the hardest - those experiencing poverty, homelessness and mental-health issues, and people of colour.

"While considerable work has been done, the situation remains urgent and too many people are still dying", she said in a statement. "These preventable deaths are affecting our family members, friends and colleagues, and we must do more".

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