Thursday, August 17, 2017

Harm reduction: decriminalizing drugs to reduce overdoses?

From the Toronto Star:
Should Toronto push to decriminalize all drugs? The city’s medical health officer ready to consider it
The city is convening a committee of health and drug policy experts to explore “a different approach that puts the health of the community first,” Dr. Eileen De Villa said.

"Toronto’s new Medical Officer of Health is calling for a public discussion on the merits of decriminalizing all drugs in the wake of the ongoing overdose epidemic.

“It’s clear that our current approach to drugs in this city and this country doesn’t seem to be having the desired impact,” Dr. Eileen De Villa told reporters Friday at a briefing on how the city is responding to drug users overdosing and, in some cases, dying.
"On Friday, following Thursday’s emergency meeting of city partners, De Villa reviewed with reporters the city’s overdose prevention strategies which include asking police to carry the fentanyl antidote and speeding up the opening of three safe injection sites.

De Villa said among the 10 key strategies in Toronto’s Overdose Action plan is a call for a public health approach to drug policy that puts the health of the community first, “rather than looking at this as an issue of criminal behavior and or an area for law enforcement.”

The city is convening a committee of health and drug policy experts to explore “a different approach that puts the health of the community first,” she said.

While acknowledging the city doesn’t have the power to change the Criminal Code, “Toronto has always been a leader … in policy and I don’t see why we wouldn’t continue to be a leader on this front,” said De Villa, who stepped into her high-profile position four months ago."

Not everyone is interested in this kind of harm reduction. Here's a Washington Post story about a different point of view expressed by an Ohio sheriff (I think this is a point of view that also comes up in opposition to e.g. making clean needles available to drug addicts):

Why this Ohio sheriff refuses to let his deputies carry Narcan to reverse overdoses

"No one has come up with a solution to the opioid epidemic that has decimated Rust Belt states, but for people who overdose, Naloxone is about as effective an antidote as there is. The results of the opioid antagonist, which is sprayed up a person's nose and reverses the effect of opioid overdoses, have been likened to resurrecting someone from the dead.

"Paramedics and firefighters routinely carry the easy-to-administer medication in their vehicles. For police officers in the nation's hardest hit areas, like southwest Ohio, the Food and Drug Administration-approved nasal spray, known by the brand name Narcan, can be as common as handcuffs. Even some librarians have learned to use the drug to revive people who overdose in their stacks.

"But Richard K. Jones, the sheriff of Butler County, Ohio, raised eyebrows recently when he said that his deputies will never carry the medication.
"Jones said Narcan is the wrong approach for a war on opioids that “we're not winning,” and said he favored stronger prevention efforts to prevent people from first using the drug."

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