Stock photo licensed by Victoria Buzz

Decriminalizing people who possess illegal drugs for personal use could help British Columbia reduce the provincial overdose crisis, according to a report by the provincial health officer.

“Experts, including people with lived experience, agree that our existing drug laws are further stigmatizing people living with addiction, a chronic, relapsing health condition,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer (PHO).

“The decriminalization of people who are in possession of drugs for personal use is the next logical and responsible step we must take to keep people alive and connect them to the health and social supports they need.”

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Her report, entitled “Stopping the Harm: Decriminalization of People Who Use Drugs in BC”, provides evidence on how decriminalization would mitigate the overdose crisis which was declared a public health emergency three years ago.

Dr. Henry urges the provincial government to consider legislation that would allow people to possess illicit drugs without for personal use without incurring criminal justice penalties like incarceration or a criminal record.

The report examines how stigma causes drug users to hide their usage and creates barriers to using harm reduction and treatment services. The evidence provided in this report therefore shows that criminalizing drug usage does more harm than good.

“We are scaling up evidence-based treatment and recovery services like opioid agonist treatment, harm reduction measures and the provision of a safer drug supply,” Henry said.

“But we need to do more. We need to decriminalize people in possession of controlled substances for personal use so that we can protect them from the highly-toxic street drug supply and curtail the mounting number of preventable overdose deaths in B.C.”

(Stopping the Harm: Decriminalization of People Who Use Drugs in BC)

In 2018, there were 1,489 suspected illicit drug overdose deaths in BC – a slight increase from the number of related deaths in 2017.

Moreover, it is estimated that over 115,000 people are living with opioid use disorder in B.C., while only a small percentage are receiving treatment.

Click here to read the provincial health officer’s full report on decriminalizing drug use.