FILE - Advocates for decriminalization and safe supply of drugs stood outside city hall in Nelson, B.C. on April 14, 2022. (Photo by Black Press)

FILE - Advocates for decriminalization and safe supply of drugs stood outside city hall in Nelson, B.C. on April 14, 2022. (Photo by Black Press)

Decriminalizing drugs in B.C. a ground-breaking approach, says Red Deer harm reduction agency

‘Hopefully open the door for other provinces across Canada to do the same’

Red Deer’s harm reduction agency is hoping British Columbia’s three-year experiment with drug decriminalization will encourage more people with addictions to reach out for help.

But the province called decriminalization alarming.

On Tuesday, the federal government approved B.C.’s request to decriminalize small-scale drug possession for personal use. Charges will not be laid against anyone 18 or older possessing up to 2.5 grams of opioids, cocaine, methamphetamine or MDMA, also known as ecstasy, starting Jan. 31, 2023. Substances will also not be confiscated.

“This ground-breaking initiative will hopefully remove some of barriers in accessing help as people are so fearful of criminalization and the stigma that surrounds substance use,” said Natasha Stagg, clinical manager at Turning Point.

“B.C., being the first province to apply for an exemption from Canada’s drug laws, will hopefully open the door for other provinces across Canada to do the same.”


Decriminalization of hard drugs puts B.C. in small, select group of jurisdictions

Premier Jason Kenney said his government was alarmed by its neighouring province’s decision to decriminalize deadly and dangerous drugs and Alberta will monitor the situation closely.

“There has been no consultation on decriminalization of drugs between the federal government and the public or the Government of Alberta. In fact, Prime Minister Trudeau specifically said he would not decriminalize drugs in the last election,” said Kenney in a statement.

He said Alberta has focused on creating treatment services so people with addiction can get their lives back, and he urged the federal government to instead focus on intercepting dangerous drugs at the border.

“Many of these drugs are manufactured in black market labs and trafficked into Canada by criminals and cartels. Yet, we have seen no effort from the Government of Canada to increase resources for the Canadian Border Services Agency in support of efforts to interdict these deadly and dangerous drugs.”


Jurisdictions looking to decriminalize small amounts of drugs to curb overdose deaths

Friends of Medicare said abstinence-only recovery will not save lives.

“Our governments must act decisively by supporting harm reduction efforts, safe consumption services, safe supply and by moving forward with decriminalization,” said executive director Chris Gallaway in a statement.

He said a private members bill from NDP MP Gord Johns was to be voted on Wednesday in Ottawa to decriminalize simple possession, and outlines a national health-based strategy to reduce harm, has widespread support.

“This public health crisis has been allowed to continue unaddressed for far too long. People are dying for access to supports, and doing so in record numbers,” Gallaway said.

2021 was Alberta’s deadliest year on record for overdoses with 1,758 deaths, which included 40 Red Deer deaths.

Stagg said the majority of overdose deaths in Alberta happen in the home. The contaminated drug supply is constantly changing which means that people who use any substances could unintentionally consume opioids.

“It is critical to never use alone and to carry naloxone and know how to use it.”

She encouraged those using at home to call the National Overdose Response (1-888-688-6677), a peer-run hotline that provides non-judgmental support for people whenever and wherever they use drugs to initiate an overdose response when required.

In May, the overdose prevention site, operated by Turning Point, saw 239 unique clients for a total of 3,072 monthly visits. Staff reversed 118 apparent opioid poisonings and completed 222 recovery-oriented referrals.

— with files from The Canadian Press

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