Drugs: change the system so it works

Addiction is a cause of a great many serious problems in our communites

It’s time to change how we deal with drugs.

In a surprise to nobody, some of the debris left in Charles Hoey Park after the homeless camp was dismantled there last week was drug paraphernalia such as dirty needles.

Such needles, or sharps, as they are called, are also an increasingly common sight discarded around school grounds in the Duncan area. Even a pre-school has had a recent problem.

Addiction is a cause of a great many serious problems in our communities, including homelessness, crime and health woes.

The way our government currently treats the drug problem is largely through criminal processes, with by far the lion’s share of funds going into things like police, court, prisons and the like.

Of course making, transporting and selling the drugs are criminal, as they should be, but so is possessing it, criminalizing addicts who are far more in need of treatment than jail time. And logic dictates that if you dry up the demand, you’ll dry up the supply.

Inevitably, when one tries to argue for emphasizing treatment over the justice system, one gets called a soft-on-crime lefty, and by that they mean soft in the head.

But consider that our criminal system hasn’t worked. Addiction is an ever-increasing problem, with fentanyl putting a sharp edge on the issue by increasingly drug-related deaths exponentially.

And consider Portugal. CBC did a feature on the country and its drug treatment regime in recent days that was incredibly instructive. Here is an example proving that diversion and treatment prioritized over criminalization works to actually solve the problem.

CBC tells us that Portugal was once Europe’s worst country for drugs. In 1999 approximately one per cent of the population used heroin, cocaine and other hard drugs and the country reported hundreds of deaths every year. A mere decade later and the number of addicts had dropped by half and deaths were just 30 per year for the whole country.

It’s largely due to the fact that 90 per cent of Portugal’s money for fighting drugs is channeled to health care, while 10 per cent goes to enforcement.

It’s possible. We just have to choose to do it.