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

Oliver Town Hall (Town of Oliver Facebook).
Call for local artists to design centennial logo for Oliver

The Town of Oliver will be celebrating 100 years in 2021

Vaseux Lake in winter. (Facebook)
Dogs rescued after falling through ice on Vaseux Lake

Good Samaritans saved the trapped dogs

“My grandma always just said…making people smile is the most important thing,” says Nicholas Kruger. (Chehala Leonard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter)
Entrepreneur Nicholas Kruger nominated as Okanagan community changemaker

With humour and knowledge, Nicholas Kruger says it’s important to give back

Geoff Orr began building his dream home in the hills above Penticton over 14 years ago. The architect used recycled lumber from the old Super-Vale grocery store. (Floating Orb Productions / YouTube)
WATCH: Penticton man shows off dream home made from recycled lumber

A lot of the lumber used was taken from the demolished Super-Valu grocery store

Colton Jacob Thorsen. (Facebook)
Accused Osoyoos shooter to be tried by judge

Colton Jacob Thorsen is charged with attempted murder stemming from an October 2020 incident

British Columbia Health Minister Adrian Dix looks on as Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry addresses the media during a news conference at the BC Centre of Disease Control in Vancouver B.C. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
B.C. announces 485 new COVID-19 cases, fewest deaths in months

‘The actions we take may seem small, but will have a big impact to stop the virus,” urges Dr. Henry

Downtown Fernie is pictured after a snowfall.
RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
Driver crashes vehicle twice in one day near Princeton

A 29-year-old Abbotsford woman twice crashed her car near Princeton on Saturday,… Continue reading

Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops. (Dave Eagles/Kamloops This Week file photo)
COVID-19 outbreak at Kamloops hospital grows to 66 cases

A majority of cases remain among staff at Royal Inland Hospital

Kamloops RCMP covered the animal with a blanket and dragged it out of the home on a carpet. (Kamloops This Week)
Oh ‘deer’: Bambi breaks into Kamloops home

A deer got trapped into a Kamloops home and had to be escorted out by RCMP

Lesley Lutes, UBCO professor of psychology and director of the Centre for Obesity and Well-being Research Excellence. (Submitted)
UBCO psychologist part of Bell Let’s Talk virtual panel tonight at 6 p.m.

Panel will talk about coping under the stress of this pandemic

A Cougar was caught on camera at a Coldstream Estates residence early Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021. (Brad Thomas photo)
VIDEO: Cougar caught on camera in Coldstream

A Coldstream Estates resident captured early-morning footage Wednesday

B.C. Premier John Horgan speaks at B.C. legislature on the province’s mass vaccination plan for COVID-19, Jan. 22, 2021. (B.C. government)
COVID-19 quarantine not an option for B.C., John Horgan says

Apres-ski parties increase risk, not interprovincial travel

Most Read