Drug addiction needs to be treated as a public health problem – not a crime.
Drug users are people too, but that is rarely reflected in their care. The stigma surrounding substance abuse in Canada is the result of a law that places retribution ahead of rehabilitation.
Or, if the federal government must decriminalize all drugs, it prioritizes users and empathizes with the reasons for their use.
Stressing penalties for treatment for using drugs doesn't help much to overcome the long-standing addiction problem in Canada. By taking an empathetic approach to addicts, we accept not exclude and encourage their hopes to be healthy.
It's important to remember, the act of using is no more important than its intention. Decriminalizing drugs and recognizing conditions that cause drug users to be used will reduce stigma and reduce excessive drug use.
Many drug users use drugs as a way to treat themselves, whether it's to relieve physical or psychological pain.
Consider an athlete who suffers from a severe injury and is given a prescription for opiates to relieve pain. If their doctors suddenly stop their prescription – which has been a problem for some when OxyContin was issued in 2012 – they have to find other ways to relieve their pain, such as through black market traders.
Decriminalizing drugs in Canada will be a constructive approach to reduce the stigma surrounding the stigma of substance abuse while placing an important focus on users as valuable people.
By financing drug plans, harm reduction methods, and health care for people suffering from drug use, the government will prioritize user safety and have greater quality control over all drugs.
Likewise, with the increasing scarcity of fentanyl in street drugs, controlled substances programs will limit contamination and the impact of drugs. In Ontario, overdoses associated with opioids have become increasingly common – they are now classified as the third most common cause of death in the province, with more than 5,000 deaths since 2000.
Introducing quality control over street medicines will also reduce crime rates. If users get their medicine from a state-owned pharmacy, they will not commit crimes such as theft and prostitution to get repairs.
Decriminalization will make the substance of the user's health a priority. Instead of spending money to combat crime, the government can dedicate more resources to prevention and harm reduction programs, such as health care, housing and support groups.
This will not only save thousands of endangered addicts, it also makes the city safer by reducing drug-related crimes and allows police officers to focus on more serious violations. In other countries, this substance abuse approach has proven successful.
Since decriminalizing all drugs in 2001, the burden of drugs in Portugal's criminal justice system has dropped dramatically. Deaths related to opiates and sexually transmitted diseases also decreased significantly.
The Portuguese government subsequently implemented a job creation program that encouraged users to contribute to society – giving them a sense of purpose and improving their quality of life. If Canada adopts the same strategy, it will lead to communities where more people are included and encouraged to contribute.
Users who have difficulties will feel welcome, and receive the support needed to overcome the root causes of their substance abuse. However, it is more logical and realistic to emphasize harm reduction and safe drug use rather than not doing total abstinence.
Education about the risks of taking drugs and reducing harm and drug treatment is also important for the stigma surrounding substance abuse to be resolved.
Offering one way to prevent teaching is the Naloxone kit, a treatment that can temporarily reverse opioid overdoses such as fentanyl. This kit is currently available for free at the Ontario pharmacy, where training is offered to anyone with a valid OHIP card.
This is very important for students, keeping in mind the general use of medicines at parties, bars, and events such as Homecoming and St. Patrick's Day.
While decriminalization is still far away, progress is being made. In July, Kingston Street Health Center launched their Overdose Prevention Site, where local substance users can receive non-assessment, supervision and clean supplies when using drugs.
There are concrete steps taken for empathy and acceptance, although much needs to be done to improve the social and judicial treatment of current drug users and how to deal with addiction.
We need to support substance users with help, love, and compassion. After all, they are people who deserve to be respected like everyone else.
Geneviève Nolet is a second year language, literature and major culture.