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Canadian province tries decriminalizing drugs to fight overdose crisis

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VANCOUVER (Reuters) – The province of British Columbia in western Canada on Tuesday launched a three-year trial to stop prosecuting people for possessing small amounts of heroin, meth, ecstasy or crack cocaine as part of the struggle. program was started. Drug overdose crisis.

According to official data, B.C. accounts for nearly a third of the 32,000 overdose and trafficking deaths nationwide since 2016. The state declared drug overdoses a public health emergency that year.

This problem was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which disrupted illicit drug supply chains and support services, pushing people to use more toxic drugs alone.

Preliminary data released by the state on Tuesday showed 2,272 suspected drug-related deaths in 2022, the second highest after 2021 with more than 34 deaths.

In May, the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that it would allow BC to decriminalize drugs as Canada’s first exemption. By not prosecuting people for possession of small amounts of drugs, the BC government hopes to address the issue as a health issue rather than through the criminal justice system.

The ministry said the exemption aims to reduce stigma related to substance use and make it easier for people to seek guidance from authorities.

Professor Robert Schwartz of the University of Toronto said the measure was a laudable first step, but more needs to be done to tackle the drug problem.

“The problem we have with these substances is that there is a large amount of illicit supply that is causing great harm,” Schwartz said. We need a hygiene approach, and this decriminalization is the first step.”

Drugs on the exempt list, including fentanyl and other opioids, are still illegal, and the only exemption from arrest is possession of up to 2.5 grams for personal use.

A Vancouver Police spokesperson said, “We have had a de facto policy of not arresting people for personal drug possession for many years,” but the change is expected to result in fewer seizures of small amounts of drugs. said to mean

Other Canadian communities are watching the pilot closely. They are also facing an increase in drug overdose deaths.

Many health experts argue that decriminalization will move drug users to safer places to get medical care.

Reporting by Ismail Shakil, Ottawa and Anna Mehler Paperny, Toronto Editing by Deepa Babington

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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