Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry answers questions during a press conference about the release of the latest provincial statistics by the BC Coroners Service at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, February 7, 2019. (Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press)

Drug decriminalization report welcomed in East Kootenay

Provincial report recommends decriminalizing people who use illicit drugs, shift focus to treatment

An East Kootenay advocacy organization is welcoming recommendations from the province’s top doctor that calls for the decriminalization of people who use illicit drugs.

Decriminalization was the key conclusion from the report written by Dr. Bonnie Henry, who analyzed the history of illegal drug overdoses in the province and looked at alternatives to criminal justice approaches to substance use and possession.

Dean Nicholson, the executive director of the East Kootenay Addictions Services Society, says the recommendations in the report have been identified as solutions in other jurisdictions outside the province.

“I think it’s been widely talked about for years that the ‘war on drugs’ approach has, if anything, made drug use more prevalent than it was before,” said Nicholson, “and that the harms associated with criminalizing that kind of behaviour in most cases outweigh the harms from the use itself for most people.”

READ: ‘B.C. cannot wait for action’: Top doctor urges province to decriminalize illicit drugs

Nicholson said that decriminalizing wouldn’t apply to production, distribution or trafficking of large amounts of illicit substances, but rather to smaller amounts for personal use. The intent is that people who use illicit drugs would be redirected away from the criminal justice system and towards options such as treatment or education, he added.

While Dr. Henry’s report notes that ideal changes need to be made at the federal level with the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the province can take two approaches to achieving decriminalization for personal use.

One option would be amending the provincial policing policy to allow the Minister of Public Safety to focus on a harm reduction approach that focuses on alternatives to criminal charges and incarceration.

Another recommendation includes amending provincial policing regulations to include a provision that prevents any member of a police force in B.C. from expending resources on enforcement of simple possession offences.

“Given that the current regulatory regime is ineffective, harmful, and stigmatizing, and in the absence of federal interest in moving away from criminalizing simple possession of controlled drugs, and as the overdose crisis continues, it is incumbent on the province of BC to act,” wrote Dr. Henry, in her conclusion.

While regions such as Metro Vancouver and the Okanagan are at the forefront of the opioid overdose crisis, East Kootenay communities are also experiencing the effects.

Nicholson says the EKASS was the first agency in the province that recognized fentanyl, a deadly opioid, was coming into distribution in 2014.

In response, the EKASS has worked closely with organizations such as ANKORS, Interior Health and other community partners to develop local harm reduction committees to provide services such as naloxone kits and expanding methadone replacement programs.

“As a region, we’ve been very proactive and very good at getting equipment out to people to reduce their risk,” Nicholson said.

READ: East Kootenay illicit drug overdose deaths lowest in B.C.

Dr. Henry’s report noted that deaths from illicit drug overdoses have steadily risen from a baseline average of 250 per year in 2012. Since a public health emergency was declared in 2016, there has been 3,700 deaths attributed to a preventable overdose.

In response, the province has increasingly focused on harm reduction, such as making naloxone more available, and offering supervised consumption and drug-checking services.

“I think the next step that we can look at is given the supply is so toxic and so unpredictable,” said Nicholson, “because it is illegally produced rather than a pharmaceutically produced product, that if there is a way to get people to have a safe and reliable access to supply, then we would probably be reducing a lot of the overdoses which are being caused by people having an unpredictable supply.”

Dr. Henry’s report also identifies other jurisdictions that have decriminalized people who use illicit drugs, such as Portugal, which has reduced health and societal harms of possession.

The Portuguese model dates back to 2001, in which the introduction of a law effectively changed the penalty for simple possession of an illegal drug from a criminal sanction to an administrative process. Anyone charged under the that particular law must appear before a commission that determines options such as dismissal with a warning, referral to health or social services, referral to treatment, fines, or community service.



trevor.crawley@cranbrooktownsman.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A second wave of COVID-19 is probable, if history tells us anything

B.C.’s top doctor says that what health officials have learned this round will guide response in future

Snow expected to hit West Kootenay passes overnight on Thursday

Up to 15 cm of snow could fall on Highway 3 between Paulson summit to Kootenay Pass by Friday morning

Former Grand Forks fire chief suing city for wrongful dismissal

Dale Heriot was fired in July 2019 after his department was investigated for safety, bullying issues

Regional District of Kootenay Boundary seeks online feedback on transit, housing

Surveys on the RDKB’s website are asking for input to help plan for the future

School District 51 staff iron out plan for return to classrooms

Teachers are looking for a comprehensive health and safety plan to be in place before June 1

Trudeau to seek 10 days of paid sick leave for Canadian workers, says talks are ongoing

Paid sick leave is key to keeping COVID-19 spread under control, prime minister says

Eight people arrested in Victoria homeless camp after enforcement order issued

Those living in tents were given until May 20 to move indoors

Andrew Weaver says he was ready to defeat John Horgan government

Independent MLA blasts B.C. Greens over LNG opposition

44% fewer passengers flew on Canadian airlines in March 2020 than in 2019

COVID-19 pandemic has hit airlines hard as travel remains low

Commercial rent relief applications open as feds encourage landlords to apply

Program would see government cover 50 per cent of the rent

COVID-19: B.C. park reservations surge as campgrounds reopen

Keep trying, many sites not reservable, George Heyman says

B.C. residents can now reserve a provincial campsite for a stay starting June 1

Campsite reservations will only be available to British Columbians

Cullen commission into money laundering in British Columbia resumes today

Inquiry was called amid growing concern that illegal cash was helping fuel real estate, luxury car and gambling

Bike shops busier than ever, but owners worry about stock supply issues

Uptick in cyclists brings new challenges for shops

Most Read