With Canada struggling with an opioid epidemic in the past, as well as many people continuing to struggle with addictions to this day, we feel like it is time for Canada to change its approach when it comes to how the country handles addictive substances. The first and potentially biggest necessary change is that of perspective. Our current system is built to villanize those who are addicted to these substances and treat them as a criminal when in fact they are actually the victims here. To use an analogy to try and illustrate this point, this is like charging a homeowner for breaking and entering when their house gets robbed. Yes, the individual who is addicted to a controlled substance could’ve never taken drugs in the first place, but the homeowner could have gotten a better security system in the first place. Either way, the system is set up to kick you when you’re down.
One of the other changes that we think needs to happen is the decriminalizing possession of a controlled substance under a certain amount. This would ensure that only people who are charged and arrested with the possession of a controlled substance are the ones who are actually providing it to other individuals and making a profit off of other people suffering. This would also not only stop criminalizing the victim, but free up resources within our justice system since we would only be going after the people who perpetuate the problem of addiction, and not those who are merely the result of the problem. Although this decriminalization may sound far-fetched, there is a precedent for it with the creation of Bill C-216. This bill was to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to decriminalize possession of drugs and other substances under a certain amount. Although it was ultimately defeated, it did manage to make it to second reading and has the capability to be altered and re-introduced into the house.
Even if we don’t decriminalize possession of a controlled substance, one of the things that we definitely need right now is to help people with addictions through safe injection sites. These are places that offer an area where addicts can give into their addictions while they’re surrounded by medical professionals who are able to assist them in the event of overdose or other problems. Some safe injection sites also offer rehab programs for individuals who are looking to kick the habit. Even if Canada never decriminalizes the possession of a controlled substance under a certain amount, we should still invest in and maintain safe injection sites just because of the sheer amount of lives it saves by preventing deaths due to overdoses.
Finally, one of the simplest things that we can do to help those who are struggling with addiction is to have better funding to improve and have more services that can help people who are struggling with addiction. This funding should also encompass the first responder services. Currently, since possession of all controlled substances regardless of the amount is illegal, the police are the most likely individuals who would interact with those struggling with addiction. We feel like there should either be a separate emergency service dedicated to handling controlled substances or a separate group within the police force. We feel like, right now, when it comes to dealing with people who are struggling with addiction, many police forces are a hammer and everything is looking like a nail — despite those who are struggling with addiction needing support instead of a trip to jail or confinement.