Looking beyond addiction | The newspaper



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Drug addiction needs to be treated as a public health problem – not a crime.

Drug users are also people, but this is rarely reflected in their treatment. This stigma surrounding substance abuse in Canada is the result of laws that put retribution before rehab.

Alternatively, if the federal government decriminalizes all drugs, it will prioritize users and empathize with the reasons for use.

Emphasizing the punishment on treatment for drug use does little to solve the long standing problem of addiction in Canada. By adopting an empathic approach to addicts, we accept rather than exclude, and we encourage their hopes for health.

It is important to remember that the act of using is no more important than your intention. Decriminalization of drugs and recognition of the conditions that lead drug users to use will reduce stigma and reduce excessive drug use.

Many drug users use drugs as a way to self-medicate, whether for physical or psychological pain relief.

Consider an athlete who suffers a serious injury and is prescribed opiates to relieve the pain. If their doctor suddenly cut their prescription – which has been the case for some when OxyContin was withdrawn from the market in 2012 – they would have to find other means to alleviate their pain, such as through black market dealers.

Canada's decriminalization of drugs would be a constructive approach to reducing the stigma surrounding the stigma of substance abuse, while putting a key focus on the user as a valued individual.

By funding drug plans, harm reduction methods, and medical care for people who suffer from substance use, the government would prioritize user safety and have more quality control of all medications.

Likewise, with the increasing penetration of fentanyl into street drugs, a controlled substance program would limit drug contamination and use. In Ontario, opiate-related overdoses have become increasingly common – they are now ranked as the third most common cause of accidental death in the province, with more than 5000 deaths since 2000.

Introducing quality control on street drugs would also reduce criminal rates. If users took their remedies from a state dispensary, they did not resort to crimes like robbery and prostitution to get their fix.

Decriminalization would make the health of substance users a priority. Instead of spending money to fight crime, the government could devote more resources to prevention and harm reduction programs such as health, housing and support groups.

That would not only save thousands of endangered dependents, it would also make cities safer by reducing drug-related crime and allowing police officers to focus on more serious crimes. In other countries, this approach to substance abuse has proved to be successful.

Since the decriminalization of all drugs in 2001, the drug-related burden in Portugal's criminal justice system has been drastically reduced. Deaths related to opiates and sexually transmitted diseases have also decreased significantly.

The Portuguese government also implemented a job creation program that encouraged users to contribute to society – giving them a sense of purpose and increasing their quality of life. If Canada adopted a similar strategy, it would lead to a society in which more people were included and encouraged to contribute.

Troubled users would feel accepted and receive the support needed to deal with the underlying cause of substance abuse. In any case, it is more logical and realistic to emphasize harm reduction and safe drug use, rather than total abstinence.

Education about the risks of taking drugs as well as harm reduction and drug treatment is also critical if the stigma surrounding substance abuse is to be resolved.

Offering a way to teach prevention is a Naloxone kit, a treatment that can temporarily reverse an overdose of opiates like fentanyl. These kits are currently available for free at Ontario pharmacies where training is offered to anyone with a valid OHIP card.

This is particularly important for students, given the common use of drugs at parties, bars and events such as Dancing and St Patrick's Day.

While decriminalization is still far away, progress is being made. In July, the Kingston Street Health Center has launched its Overdose Prevention Site, where local users of substances can receive clean, non-judgmental support, supervision and supplies while using drugs.

There are real steps being taken toward empathy and acceptance, although much needs to be done to mend our current social and legal treatment of drug users and how to cope with addiction.

We need to support substance users with help, love, and compassion. After all, they are people who deserve respect like anyone else.

Geneviève Nolet is one of the major languages, literature and culture of the second year.

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