In a new report Canadian Mental Health Association supports decriminalizing illegal substances to bring Canadian drug laws into alignment with public health.
“Our jails are just full of people who need help and jail isn’t a solution for an addiction,” said Christine Stewart, executive director of CMHA Central Region, who supports decriminalization “100 per cent.”
In its report — Care not Corrections: Relieving the Opioid Crisis in Canada — the CMHA said criminalizing people stigmatizes substance use, creates a climate where they feel unsafe accessing life-saving interventions and treatment, and further marginalizes those living in poverty, dealing with racism and other forms of oppression.
Stewart said at least 50 per cent of CMHA clients using its local housing program battle addiction.
“We have to look at (addiction) as a mental health issue. Either you had a mental health reason for becoming involved with drugs, or you now have a mental health issue because of your drug use.”
A large number of people in CMHA programs became addicted after seeking medication for pain relief from their doctor, she said.
“It started in the doctor’s offices.”
Unfortunately many people incorrectly think decriminalization is the same as legalization, she said.
Decriminalization means the possession, use and acquisition of illegal drugs would no longer be criminal offences, but producing, supplying and selling drugs remain criminal offences.
The report also recommends researching, funding and improving access to treatment for opioid use disorder; developing a national pain and addictions strategy; building on the success of overdose prevention and supervised consumption sites; and researching and supporting innovative pilots that offer prescription drugs as alternatives to the contaminated drug supply for those who continue to use drugs because treatment has not work or not ready for treatment.
Stewart said CMHA Central Region is really excited its organization is so supportive of these initiatives and decriminalizing illegal substances.
“We’re happy to do what we can to work towards a better community.”
Stewart, who sits on the local committee for the supervised consumption site and on the Central Alberta Addictions Consortium, said statistics show Red Deer may no longer have the highest fentanyl fatality rate in Alberta, but the drug is becoming easier and easier to access.
Related: Red Deer sees more fentanyl deaths