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

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

A Vernon man's faith in humanity has been restored since his lost wallet was returned, credit cards, cash and all, to the RCMP station. (Contributed)
Good Samaritan turns in cash-filled wallet to Vernon Mounties

Owner’s faith in humanity restored following a tough few weeks

Esa Carriere, 23, was the victim of a 2018 Canada Day homicide. (File)
Youth sentenced in Kelowna Canada Day killing

Young woman pleaded guilty to lesser assault charge, sentenced to 15-month intensive support and supervision program

A rendering of UBC’s planned downtown Kelowna campus. (Contributed)
Kelowna’s new downtown campus to help alleviate UBCO’s space crunch

The sizable development is anticipated to be completed by the fall 2024 semester

Vernon's Noric House long-term care facility is dealing with an influenza outbreak amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (File photo)
Two more deaths at Vernon care home

Noric House case numbers remain steady, but death toll rises

The BC SPCA is adapting its fundraising after cancelling events due to COVID-19 restrictions. (Twila Amato - Black Press Media)
BC SPCA gets creative with fundraising as pandemic continues

The non-profit’s in-person fundraising events all had to be cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions

Vancouver Canucks’ Travis Hamonic grabs Montreal Canadiens’ Josh Anderson by the face during first period NHL action in Vancouver, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horvat scores winner as Canucks dump Habs 6-5 in shootout thriller

Vancouver and Montreal clash again Thursday night

Interior Health has declared the Cariboo Chilcotin a community cluster. (Angie Mindus photo)
Interior Health declares Cariboo Chilcotin region a COVID-19 cluster, 215 cases since Jan. 1

Most cases are related to transmission at social events and gatherings in Williams Lake

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Vernon Fire Rescue Services responded to a single-vehicle rollover Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, after a vehicle came into contact with a pedestrian light pole at Kalamalka Lake Road and 14th Avenue. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star)
Minor injuries in rollover after vehicle hits Vernon crosswalk pole

The vehicle flipped onto its side, closing Kalamalka Lake Road

Penticton city council heard from Dhorea Ramanula, of Paid Employment for People with Lived Experiences Tuesday, Jan. 19. Ramanula’s organization has operated public washrooms in Kelowna staffed by community support workers since April, she says Penticton could benefit from a similar facility. (Michael Rodriguez - Kelowna Capital News)
Penticton interested in new public washroom concept to combat vandalism

Public washrooms with on-site support staff have been operating in Kelowna since April

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Canada Post had remove a lot of letter boxes around Penticton after they were vandalized. This letter box at the United Church on Main St. remains unscathed. (Monique Tamminga Western News)
Street mailbox vandals strike Penticton drop boxes

Canada Post had to remove a bunch of the vandalized units

Most Read