Ottawa, ON – February 26, 2018 – From January to June 2017, there were at least 1,460 opioid-related deaths in Canada. Sadly, our nation is on track to exceed this number of overdose deaths in this same period of time in 2018. In response, today the Canadian Association of Social Workers (CASW) releases a paper recommending the decriminalization of the personal use of psychoactive substances.
“Our current system is not only ineffective at reducing drug use, it has created the crisis we are in now: we require a paradigm shift to take immediate action. We cannot stand by as our fellow Canadians continue to die,” stated CASW President, Jan Christianson-Wood. “The evidence is there – a public health, harm reduction approach to drugs saves lives – we just need to take the step into full implementation of what the current federal government has already begun.”
In December 2016, CASW the federal government announced that the responsibility for federal drug policy was being moved away from Justice, to the purview of the Minister of Health. CASW applauds this overdue shift from previous prohibitionist policies that directly contributed to today’s crisis.
“Legislative changes that facilitate the opening of new safe injection sites, the renewal of harm reduction as a pillar in the Canadian Drugs and Substances Strategy, and the adoption of the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act are all positive steps towards saving lives in Canada," states CASW President Jan Christianson-Wood. “The next, most important step is decriminalization.”
As a first step, CASW encourages the Government of Canada to uphold its commitment to eliminate mandatory minimums specific to drug possession. The opioid crisis demonstrates that criminalization does not reduce illegal psychoactive substance use, and worsens health outcomes. “The alternative to criminalization is a public health approach based on the principles of social justice, human rights and equity, accompanied by equitable access to evidence-informed treatment and addressing the underlying determinants of health,” notes Christianson-Wood.
For more information contact:
Fred Phelps, MSW, RSW