In the realm of reform: Drugs, law and social change

Canadian drug policy is at a critical juncture. After years of work by drug users, community activists and medical professionals, Vancouver is now home to the first sanctioned supervised injection facility in North America.  Insite, along with needle exchanges, low barrier health care services and peer-driven support groups, has resulted in sharp decline in the rate of new HIV infections and overdose deaths among injection drug users in the Downtown Eastside.

These services have also helped more people access methadone and other types of treatment.  Yet, despite all of these successes, Canada now spends 93% of its approximately 500 million dollar budget for addressing illicit drug-use on law enforcement efforts.  The Harper government is spending hundreds of thousands of additional taxpayer dollars going to court to challenge Insite’s right to exist.

On March 31st, Pivot hosted “In the Realm of Reform: Drugs, Law and Social Change” at W2. The event was a chance to get together with drug users, policy experts and hundreds of supporters to talk about addiction and a new direction for drug policy in Canada. As keynote speaker, Dr. Gabor Mate shared his perspective on the roots of addiction in trauma and spoke of the need to bring together science and compassion in our approach to illicit drug use - two things that are sorely lacking in the Federal Government’s current anti-drug strategy.

The event was also an opportunity to share the vision behind Pivot’s health and drug policy campaign: drug policy in Canada that promotes the health and human rights of all drug users through evidence-based, just and effective systems of health care and drug regulation.Achieving this vision will require a paradigm shift away from criminalization and punishment and toward the promotion of health and human rights.

Practically speaking, it will mean lifting prohibitions on effective treatment options and re-directing funds away from enforcement and into harm reduction services and other supports for people struggling with drug dependence. It will also mean re-examining societal attitudes about addiction and committing to systemic reforms to deal with the social conditions that lead some people into problematic drug use.

Thanks to everyone who came out to last Thursday’s event and who contributed to the Pivot Legal Action Fund to help support our legal work on drug policy issues.