Legalizing hard drugs not a ‘panacea’ to opioids crisis, Trudeau says

Besides the thousands who have died, thousands more have been hospitalized or treated by paramedics

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he’s unconvinced that decriminalizing hard drugs is a “panacea” to the country’s ongoing opioids crisis, and other options need a chance before considering such a major policy shift.

But Trudeau once felt the same way about marijuana — conceding it during an interview this week — before changing his mind.

During the wide-ranging interview with The Canadian Press, Trudeau said the epidemic requires a complex set of answers and not simply decriminalizing opioids to undercut a tainted black-market supply, as some jurisdictions have suggested.

The prime minister said his government plans to focus on solutions such as giving doctors more authority to prescribe alternatives to street drugs and creating more supervised consumption sites across the country.

However, opening supervised sites is more difficult in places where people are leery of supplying sterile drug paraphernalia and workers who can respond quickly to overdoses, he said, particularly in provinces headed by “capital-C conservative” governments.

The most recent figures from the Public Health Agency of Canada showed that nearly 14,000 Canadians have been killed by opioids since 2016, a staggering number that Trudeau said makes him want to pull whatever levers are at the government’s disposal.

Nearly all of those deaths are due to accidental overdoses. The composition of street drugs is practically impossible for users to tell, and the advent of powdered fentanyl — a super-potent opioid, easily hidden and transported, and often cut and then passed off as a less powerful drug — has been a major factor.

READ MORE: Canada first in the world to approve injectable hydromorphone to treat opioid addiction

Besides the thousands who have died, thousands more have been hospitalized or treated by paramedics. Some have suffered permanent harm.

Trudeau said possible government responses “haven’t yet been fully deployed.” They will make a difference without having to “immediately jump to the biggest, perhaps biggest, lever in our arsenal,” he said, in reference to decriminalization.

Though he didn’t rule out that something could change his mind.

“I was absolutely opposed to decriminalization of marijuana for many years and opposed to legalization. I am now opposed to decriminalization of hard drugs,” Trudeau said — and stopped, leaving the implication hanging.

Pushed for clarity, Trudeau said, “It is not something that I would be convinced is — or even could be — the panacea.” Other moves are ”more likely to have a quicker and more significant impact in the coming years.”

The Liberal platform called the opioid epidemic “the greatest public health emergency” in generations, and included a promise to fund more in-patient rehab beds and expand supervised-consumption sites’ effectiveness by extending their hours, for instance.

The Liberals also promised to allow first-time, non-violent offenders to go to drug-treatment courts when charged with simple possession of banned drugs, ”as opposed to just straight criminalization.” The provincial courts, which are already funded by the federal government, allow people to get help for addictions as an alternative to being jailed.

But Trudeau has heard calls to work on safer opioid supplies repeatedly. British Columbia’s provincial health officer made a request on Ottawa earlier this year. More recently, Trudeau heard it in a meeting with Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart, whose city has applied for $6 million from Health Canada to allow for the safe distribution of the painkiller diamorphine, better known as heroin.

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press

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

COVID-19: 2020 Peach Classic Triathlon cancelled

Athletes’ inability to properly train main reason for cancelling the long-running event

Childcare service in South Okanagan to serve just essential service workers

On April 1, eight OneSky childcare centres will only be available to essential service workers

Thousands affected by Penticton power outages

Two corresponding issues have resulted in approx. 7000 without power

Summerland care facility orders reusable masks

Okanagan Valley quilters ready to produce cloth masks if needed

COLUMN: Plenty of online reading options

Libraries are closed due to COVID-19 but downloads are available through Okanagan Regional Library

B.C. records first at-home death from COVID-19, but 70+ hospital patients have recovered

Total of 970 novel coronavirus cases in B.C., with the majority in the Lower Mainland area

BC Ferries able to restrict travel for sick passengers

Ferries working on schedule shifts to keep workers safe

Virtual physio connects patients with Okanagan practitioners

Many local physiotherapists are ready to assist, online

Canada expands 75% wage subsidy to COVID-19 affected businesses of all sizes: Trudeau

Program will provide up to $847 per week for each worker

Pay parking suspended at B.C. hospitals due to COVID-19

Temporary free parking reduces need for keypads, contact

Helping those at risk, one piece of paper at a time through ‘isolation communication’

Simple paper tool during pandemic making its way across Canada thanks to social media.

‘Back to school, in a virtual way’ for B.C. students in COVID-19 pandemic

Province adds online resources to help parents at home

Canadian COVID-19 round-up: Air Canada cuts 15,000 jobs, 90% of flights

Comprehensive Canadian news update as of 2:30 p.m., Monday, March 30.

Most Read