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Calls to decriminalize drugs grow louder in Simcoe County & Muskoka

A new report provides additional context into the ongoing struggles of opioid-related overdoses in Simcoe County and Muskoka.

'Decriminalization: Humanizing our Communities' is a new report commissioned by the John Howard Society of Simcoe & Muskoka, the Indigenous Harm Reduction Network, Gilbert Centre and the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition.

The organizations behind this new report are united in their calls for decriminalizing drugs to address the growing problem of fatal overdoses. Health officials now say one person dies every few days due to this in Simcoe County & Muskoka.

"There's a lot of really great best practices that come from other parts of Canada regarding how people who use drugs should be engaged in these conversations," says Sarah Tilley, the Gilbert Centre's harm reduction program manager. "However, having this local report of people who are actively living, working, playing, using drugs in Barrie is going to put a more local spin on it and will help to better advocate from a local perspective."

The report is based on two days of consultations with various stakeholders in Oct. 2021, including many substance users themselves. Tilley says their insight is critical as their voice is often neglected in these types of reports.

"So it's been known for a long time that people who use drugs should be part of the policies around people who are using drugs," Tilley says. "So hopefully, that's something that will influence our current political leaders as well as social service providers and medical personnel who are living and working in this community and living and working with people who use drugs."

The report says that decriminalization will "address the social stigma associated with using criminalized substances."

The move to decriminalize would also alleviate many concerns users have with interacting with police and seeking treatment from the healthcare sector. Some contributors to the report suggest drug users are 'red-flagged' when in hospital.

"Treat people with kindness and compassion because, with kindness and compassion, people feel safe to reach out for help when they are ready, and they are more likely to," says Cathy Eisener, a nurse with the Simcoe Muskoka District Public Health Unit.

Several unintended delays led to the report not being released until today, well over a year after consultation first began.

But officials say its release now, just a few months after a municipal election was held, can provide added context to people not aware of the steps taken so far.

"As we move into a new political climate in Barrie with a new city council, I think that this report can be a great first step in introducing people to the issue who maybe haven't been a part of it since maybe the first supervised consumption site application went in," says Tilley. Top Stories

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