The Supreme Court of Canada recently instructed Ottawa to issue a federal exemption to Insite, North America’s first, recognized supervised injection site. The Court highlighted evidence of Insite’s achievements in saving lives, reducing the spread of infections and improving the health of people who inject drugs. This important decision will open the door to a more humane, pragmatic and evidence-based approach to drug problems in our communities. Too often, important public policy decisions about drugs are made with little regard for the evidence and over reliance on ideology, political expedience and/or opportunism. The need to change this practice is critical as each day of delay costs lives and results in human suffering.
This year, many of Canada’s leading experts in drug policy formed the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition (CDPC) a national civil society organization to advance changes in Canadian policy. CDPC is comprised of researchers, public health officials, front-line harm reduction and treatment providers, people who use drugs, HIV/AIDS ser-vice organizations, youth organizations, parents, and community members, all concerned with the health and safety outcomes of our drug strategies.
Based at Simon Fraser University’s Centre for Applied Research in Mental Health and Addiction, the Coalition’s key goals include: shining the light of evidence on all drug problems, fostering informed discussion on drug policy and supporting leader-ship to develop effective responses to problems stemming from substance use and related policies.
Today, the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition launches a national program of public discussion, education and advocacy for reform of Canada’s drug policies and legislation in partner-ship with the Health Officers Council of B.C. (HOC). In their discussion paper: Public Health Perspectives for Regulating Psychoactive Substances HOC articulates a vision of how public policy on all psychoactive substances, whether legal or illegal, should be developed if health, safety and social development outcomes are a priority.
The negative health and social effects of the use of, and polices related to, alcohol, tobacco, prescription drugs, and illegal substances are substantial and largely preventable. Human and health care costs are huge. The use of non-prescription substances is estimated to account for 21 per cent of all deaths in Canada and costs $40 billion a year. Of this, tobacco contributes 43 per cent, alcohol 36 per cent and other substances 21 per cent. These numbers are shocking.
Evidence shows that both prohibition of psychoactive substances at one extreme and unregulated, free-market access, at the other, increase the harms from use. Somewhere between these two extremes lie models of regulated access guided by public health principles that balance costs and benefits for individuals and society.
This does not necessarily mean legalization of currently illegal substances, nor does it reject that possibility. A public health approach uses the best evidence and focuses on promoting health and preventing illness, injury, premature death and disability.
HOC has three recommendations. First, governments should use our public health framework to evaluate and update laws on all psychoactive substances so they encompass a public health approach to regulation including taxation. Second, governments should lead by including all those groups with interests in the production, dissemination, or use of these substances to develop solutions, which respect economic and public health principles. Finally, we call for a national inquiry to recommend exactly how to proceed using the growing body of evidence of what works (and what doesn’t) for reducing the harm, and increasing the benefits associated with psychoactive substances.
Donald MacPherson is the director of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, and author of Vancouver’s Four Pillars Drug Strategy. Dr. John Carsley is a public health and preventive medicine specialist and a member of the Health Officers Council of B.C.
– Article from The Vancouver Sun.