Ontario mayors calls for decriminalization of drugs
BARRIE, ONT. -- Ontario's big-city mayors are calling for the decriminalization of controlled substances.
A tainted drug supply with more potent synthetic drugs like fentanyl and carfentanil resulted in about 2500 opioid-related deaths in Ontario last year.
"We have lost at least 60 individuals to overdose," said Sara Peddle, the executive director of the Busby Centre in Barrie, Ont.
Peddle and her teamwork first hand with those struggling with homelessness and addiction. She said overdoses are happening at an alarming rate every day.
"Between our outreach team and our shelter teams we have reversed over 17 overdoses between June 1 - June 9, said Peddle.
According to the Gilbert Centre and other outreach groups, the local overdose rates skyrocketing during the pandemic. They say for people unable or unwilling to access mental health services and support; punishment only sends them spiralling further out of control.
"We cannot get rid of drug use or addiction or the harms that come along with that by throwing people in jail," said Sarah Tilley, the Harm-Reduction Co-ordinator at Gilbert Centre.
According to the associate medical officer of Health for the Simcoe Muskoka, criminalizing people who use and possess drugs has made the opioid epidemic worse.
"Despite good intentions, it has not played out as hoped," said Dr. Lisa Simon, the Associate Medical Officer of Health at SMDHU.
The evidence has prompted Ontario's Big City Mayors to call for the decriminalization of drugs with more investment in treatment and counselling while police deal with drug production and trafficking.
"By decriminalizing simple possession and turning that into the public health response that allows the police to focus on catching the real bad guys; the ones who are producing and selling, in this case, poisoned drugs which are killing people through overdoses," said Jeff Lehman, the mayor of Barrie.
Orillia, Ont., mayor Steve Clarke agrees and points to successes of decriminalizing drugs in Europe. If adopted in Ontario or the country, he hopes it will save lives not just on the streets but throughout the community.
"The OPP, who is our policing agency, has recognized for a number of years that not all calls are calls for enforcement; they often can be addictions, they can be mental health," said Clarke.
According to the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, at least 133 people died of an overdose last year, and it's likely much higher with many overdose deaths going underreported.