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

Coastal GasLink gives $100K to United Way efforts in Northern B.C.

Organization’s COVID-19 Relief Fund benefits seniors in isolation, among others

Fisheries and Oceans Canada lifts at-sea observer requirements due to COVID-19

Fisheries Management Order went into effect April 2 and will remain for 45 days

B.C. firefighters only responding to most life-threatening calls during COVID-19 pandemic

The directive comes after province spoke with paramedics, fire services, according to top doctor

City hall, RCMP getting complaints about lack of physical distancing

So far, there’s no public health order to enforce the safety measure

Here’s how to talk to people who aren’t taking physical distancing seriously

Approach the conversation with empathy says conflict expert

B.C. clears more acute hospital beds as COVID-19 case growth slows

Province holding about 40% of beds empty for peak still to come

As 500K+ apply for emergency benefit, Trudeau says aid coming for Canadians left behind

Canada Emergency Response Benefit provides $2,000 per month

UPDATE: UK PM Boris Johnson moved to intensive care after COVID-19 symptoms worse

He has been quarantined in his Downing St. residence since being diagnosed with COVID-19 on March 26

Travellers, travel agents ‘in agony’ over refund policies and customer service

Many Canadian carriers are offering customers flights rebookings or travel vouchers — but not refunds

Introverted and extroverted kids likely to react differently to COVID-19 restrictions

B.C. child psychologist says your parenting approach can’t be one-size fits all in social isolation

B.C. begins taking submissions for $2M COVID-19 research fund

Rural health, impact of shifting hospital resources among priorities

Wearing non-medical masks can stop spread of COVID-19 before symptoms start: Tam

Health officials had previously not recommended wearing them

Most Read