Blogpost #5 – How decriminalizing could help tackle the opioid crisis

How decriminalizing could help tackle the opioid crisis/ the difference between legalization and decriminalization. 

In my last blog post I talked about How the criminalization of drugs effects marginalized communities and the effect that the decriminalization of drugs could have on these communities. In this blog post I will be looking into what the opioid/overdose crisis is ,how decriminalizing could help tackle the opioid crisis , legalization and the difference between the two.

Firstly, how could decriminalization affect the ongoing opioid crisis? To understand this, we must investigate what the opioid crisis really is. The opioid crisis has been a major public health concern for many years, with approximately 32,632 opioid toxicity deaths between January 2016 and June 2022(6). In recent years this epidemic has only amplified, in 2017 an average of 11 lives were lost due to opioid overdose and 20 lives in 2022(3). While these deaths are due to both prescribed and illegal opioids often these deaths are due to the fact that street drugs have become laced with powerful opioids, such as fentanyl (3). You cannot see, taste or smell fentanyl, though so much as a few grains of salt worth of fentanyl could be lethal (3). So why is fentanyl being laced in so many street drugs? Currently in Canada the price of fentanyl is lower than heroin, because of this it is being used as either a partial or total replacement for heroin with the user knowing so. Not only is it being used in heroin but also other illegal psychoactive substances which is again, leading to overdose (5). As stated earlier, a less common reason for opioid overdoses is due to prescribed opioids, which are often helpful but can still be lethal. They become dangerous when prescribed at high rates because this exposes the user to the risk of opioids and can lead to addiction (3). 

So how could the decriminalization of drugs affect this crisis? The decriminalization of drugs could help the opioid/overdose crisis in many ways. Decriminalizing aims to remove the stigma around drug use which in turn would make people more likely to call 911 if someone is overdosing, and to seek help (1). “Stigma drives people to hide their drug use, avoid health care and use alone,” “Through provincewide decriminalization, we can reduce the fear and shame that keep people silent about their drug use, and support people to reach out for help, lifesaving supports and treatment.”-Sheila Malcolmson, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. 

Furthermore, I would like to delve deeper into what legalization could look like and why it would even be something worth considering. Though decriminalizing is a crucial step in reducing the stigma around illicit substances and a crucial step to lessen the mass incarceration of many marginalized communities. The fact is that the opioid and overdose crisis is driven by illegal drug supply that is laced with contaminants and other potentially life-threatening substances (2). The decriminalization of drugs would not provide a safe supply of drugs, users would still be unsure of what is in their drugs and how potent they are (2). Decriminalization does not erase the overdose risk and it is important to note that the overdose risk is still incredibly high. Without the legalization of drugs, the overdose/opioid crisis cannot be fully addressed. It’s believed that providing quality drugs that are cheaply and widely available will eliminate the illegal drug market, which in turn would decrease costs for law enforcement (4). Funds that were previously allocated towards law enforcement could be put back into creating harm reduction services and social programs to help users receive the help that they need. 

 

  1. Addictions, M. H. and. (2021, April 14). B.C. moves forward on drug decriminalization, New Overdose Emergency Response Funding. B.C. moves forward on drug decriminalization, new overdose emergency response funding. Retrieved January 12, 2023, from https://news.gov.bc.ca/releases/2021MMHA0017-000706 
  2. Alissa Greer Assistant Professor in the School of Criminology. (2022, May 16). Decriminalizing drug use is a necessary step, but it won’t end the opioid overdose crisis. The Conversation. Retrieved January 12, 2023, from https://theconversation.com/decriminalizing-drug-use-is-a-necessary-step-but-it-wont-end-the-opioid-overdose-crisis-162497#:~:text=The%20overdose%20crisis%20is%20driven,in%20unregulated%20ways%20and%20places. 
  3. https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/publications/healthy-living/canada-opioid-crisis-fact-sheet.html 
  4. Drug legalization. Institute for Behavior and Health. (n.d.). Retrieved January 12, 2023, from https://www.ibhinc.org/drug-legalization#:~:text=Advocates%20of%20drug%20legalization%20believe,costs%20including%20arrest%20and%20incarceration.
  5. The opioid crisis – CPHA. (n.d.). Retrieved January 12, 2023, from https://www.cpha.ca/sites/default/files/uploads/policy/positionstatements/opioid-positionstatement-e.pdf 
  6. Opioid- and stimulant-related harms. Canada.ca. (2022, December 14). Retrieved January 11, 2023, from https://health-infobase.canada.ca/substance-related-harms/opioids-stimulants 

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