Drug prohibition puts the drug supply in the hands of criminals, said Brad King.
“They can put whatever they want in it,” said the supervisor of consumption and treatment services for Path525, the NorWest Community Health Centres’ safe injection site.
Friday was the Global Day of Action and the health centre hosted an information tent with a focus on the ‘Support, Don’t Punish’ initiative, which aims to bring a compassionate approach to drug users rather than a punitive one.
King compared the illegality of drugs to that of alcohol prohibition in the early 20th century in the United States.
“There was no control over the supply,” he said. “People were drinking turpentine and wood alcohol. People were going blind and gangsters were shooting each other in the street over alcohol supply. Now that it’s legalized and regulated, people aren’t making bathtub gin.”
The LCBO is considered an essential service during the COVID-19 pandemic and that’s because people who don’t have access to alcohol could suffer dire health consequences, said King.
“We don’t have the same for opioids,” he noted, adding the roots of prohibition of drugs in Canada relates to the prohibition of drugs in the U.S, which King said are based on anti-black and anti-Chinese actions.
“Those are the same people disproportionately affected by drug laws today and in Canada, it’s Indigenous-Canadians that are disproportionately affected by those drugs laws,” he said.
Path525 opened in November 2018 and offers a safe space for people to use drugs in a supervised environment in an effort to reduce the risks to individuals and also minimizing drug uses in public areas.
“People who use substances are members of our community,” said King. “They are our family members and loved ones and deserve support, dignity and compassion. A sensible drug policy focused on health and well-being is required with solutions based in harm reduction to help elevate and empower people, instead of dehumanizing and punishing them.”
NorWest Community Health Centres CEO Juanita Lawson said Friday’s day of action is not just a one-off day for the centre.
“Our staff try to reduce the stigma that is often associated with substance abuse every single day,” she said. “Stigma creates many barriers for individuals and their families who may need and would benefit from accessing necessary care and support.”
Lawson added their hope is that people who use substances have a voice.
“They have a right to life, health and happiness,” she said. “Today, we want to create that awareness and keep the conversation going. It’s so important to see the person in front of you.”
(This story was originally published on June 27, 2020)