There’s a new push underway to help fight the opioid epidemic. 

The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit says it’s time drug use be treated as a health issue and not a crime.  Health officials want the federal government to consider decriminalizing personal drug use. 

SMDHU medical officer of health, Dr. Charles Gardner, says it’s time to look at new options to fight the increased use of opioids. “We’ve seen a rise in use, particularly with use of opioids despite the approach that we’ve collectively taken to date, so we need to look at new options” he says.

The idea of decriminalizing personal drug use is just one option that’s gaining popularity at health units across the country. 

“Because drug use is currently criminalized, people are actually forced into unsafe drug practices and are actually inhibited from seeking help,” says Toronto Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Eileen De Ville.

Drug overdose deaths, H-I-V and drug-related crime decreased dramatically in Portugal when the use of recreational drugs was no longer considered a crime in 2001.

Public safety analyst Chris Lewis argues this could lead to more people trying recreational drugs.

“Then organized crime is still going to benefit,” says Lewis. “What are the overall societal impacts of all of that?”

The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit has sent a letter to the federal minister of health and the attorney general with their recommendations.  They are waiting to hear back.