When drug policy activist Leslie McBain scours the platforms of Canada’s major political parties, she wonders if they understand the toxic drug crisis that has killed more than 21,000 Canadians since 2016.
“It’s low on the list,” said McBain, one of the founders of Moms Stop the Harm, an advocacy group for parents who have lost family members to drug-related mischief. or drug addiction. “We haven’t heard much about it. ”
While progress has been made in some areas, McBain said there is a lot missing in the federal government’s response and lives are on the line.
“We want them to talk about decriminalization in an educated way. We want them to talk about similar legal regulations for alcohol, tobacco and cannabis, ”McBain said.
“We want them to talk about a declaration of a public health emergency. We want to know how much money they’re willing to spend on these things, and we don’t hear that.
Safe drug supply, which McBain says is the most important intervention to stop deaths, is at the forefront of at least two party platforms.
Greens want to declare a national emergency over the overdose crisis and a secure supply to stabilize and connect people to health and social services.
Paul Manly, the incumbent Green candidate for Nanaimo-Ladysmith, said in an interview that the war on drugs had been a “total failure”.
“We need a system to connect people to help and help without stigma or shame,” said Manly, who lost a cousin to a fentanyl overdose in 2017.
The NDP also wants to declare the crisis a national emergency and use federal resources to quickly enact secure supply and decriminalization.
He also wants a national inquiry into the possible role of pharmaceutical companies in the crisis in order to obtain compensation for the victims and their families.
Ottawa has been absent from responding to the drug crisis for too long, Peter Julian, incumbent NDP candidate in New Westminster-Burnaby, said in an interview.
“This is a downloaded crisis. The federal government never took this seriously, and it left it to the cities and the provinces, ”Julian said. “The federal government resources available are enormous and they have never responded with the size and scope required. ”
Neither party specified a dollar amount for emergency response expenses.
McBain said Green Party leaders and NDP leader Jagmeet Singh have met with Moms Stop the Harm, and she believes they show the deepest understanding among political parties for the poison drug crisis.
But no party talks about legalizing and regulating drugs like heroin and cocaine the same way alcohol, cannabis, and tobacco are regulated.
Garth Mullins, a Vancouver journalist and drug policy advocate, said he also wanted more action on decriminalization. The city of Vancouver asked the federal government almost six months ago for an exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to effectively legalize drug possession in the city, but has not received a response.
“If the parties say something like decriminalization, they should say specifically if you choose [us], one of our first acts in the first month will be to approve this… request, ”said Mullins.
All parties have said drug use is a health issue rather than a criminal issue, but last fall Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said decriminalization would take a back seat to a safe supply.
The Liberals have touted safe supply pilot projects, which drug policy advocates say are not at the scale and level of access needed to save lives. The Liberal Party did not respond to a request for comment from Tyee or a post interview.
McBain said federal funding for a safe procurement pilot project in British Columbia is “a big step,” but it does not go far enough given the number of people dying from contaminated drugs. McBain noted that the Liberals supported harm reduction and safe consumption sites, but did not declare a public health emergency.
The Conservatives, so far the only federal party to detail their planned spending, want to allocate $ 325 million for 1,000 new treatment beds and 50 recovery centers in communities across Canada. An additional $ 1 billion will go to aboriginal mental health and addiction treatment programs.
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole recently said he would support harm reduction and not tackle supervised consumption sites, and that addicts should be helped, not punished. But he did not support widespread decriminalization or the application of Vancouver.
Mullins said he was pleasantly surprised that the federal Conservative platform insisted that drug addiction should be treated as a health issue, not a criminal issue.
But the platform doesn’t mention harm reduction or safe sourcing, and given the party’s track record, Mullins said he doesn’t trust the Tories. When Stephen Harper was Prime Minister, the Conservative government refused to grant Canada’s first supervised injection site, Insite, a permanent exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
The Tyee sent out several interview requests to the Conservatives for this story, but had no response.
McBain and Mullins say the party platform’s focus on scaling up treatment and recovery misses the mark.
Treatment is important, but with so many people dying from poisonous drugs, that shouldn’t be the goal, McBain said.
In 2020, 1,728 British Columbians died of drug toxicity, the highest number on record. The number will be even higher this year if current trends continue. British Columbia currently has the highest rate of drug poisoning deaths per capita in the country.
“They see dependent people as people who need to be cared for, and that’s not a bad thing. But that’s not the priority right now. The priority is to keep people alive with a safe, regulated and legal supply of drugs, ”said McBain.
“The dead do not heal. ”
The policies of some of the party’s platforms will do more than others to prevent deaths, McBain and Mullins said.
But how parties frame the problem is important if voters understand the action needed, McBain said.
All parties use ‘opioid crisis’ rather than ‘overdose’ or ‘drug poisoning’ in their platforms, which McBain and Mullins say underscores a lack of understanding that the harm lies in drug policies. drug.
Manly and Julian have both said terminology is less important as long as tangible steps are taken to deal with the crisis.
“When I’m on the doorstep they refer to it as an ‘opioid crisis’,” Julian said of his campaign. “I’m more concerned with the solutions. ”
However, it’s also important to change mindsets, Manly said. He said fear of being seen to promote drug use has kept the Liberals from taking the necessary steps in safe supply and decriminalization while in government.
“There are a lot of social conservatives in the House [of Commons], and I think that gives the Liberals a break to act, ”Manly said. “But it affects everyone, many Conservative ridings as well. We need a sensible drug policy everywhere.