Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu and Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart speak to the media during a visit to the Molson Overdose Prevention Site in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, Thursday, January 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Federal health minister says too early for broad drug decriminalization

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was not convinced that decriminalizing hard drugs is the solution to the opioid crisis

Canada’s health minister says talk about decriminalizing drugs to deal with the country’s opioids crisis is premature until people have enough help to fight their addictions.

Countries that have taken that step have supports in place to protect people, said Patty Hajdu, who toured the Molson Overdose Prevention Site in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside on Thursday with Mayor Kennedy Stewart.

“My personal perspective on decriminalization is that it can’t be done in a broad sweep,” she said.

The way services are delivered in Canada vary from province to province in terms of what kinds of supports are available, she said.

“So I think that having a comprehensive kind of approach that includes things like prevention, treatment, harm reduction, enforcement, housing, those are the kind of things that are actually going to start to move the needle,” Hajdu said.

ALSO READ: Decriminalizing drugs the next steps in fighting B.C.’s opioid crisis, doctor says

“It’s too premature to have a conversation about full decriminalization of substances until we get to the place where we have comprehensive support for people to get well.”

She said the crisis stems from people struggling with “dire health situations” that need a compassionate and pragmatic response.

Last month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was not convinced that decriminalizing hard drugs is the solution to the opioid crisis, and other options need a chance.

The most recent figures from the Public Health Agency of Canada show that nearly 14,000 Canadians have been killed by opioids since 2016.

Hajdu said the Liberals have invested significantly in ways that are making a difference. Deaths due to overdose are going down because people have wider access to the overdose-reversing drug naloxone, she said.

Stewart said Vancouver has been at the epicentre of the overdose crisis.

“But we’re suddenly seeing it now move across the country with basically the cause being a poison drug supply.”

Hajdu said Vancouver has been leading the way on drug policy.

Harm reduction along with collaboration between public health agencies, non-profit organizations and the city is important to make progress, she said.

What works in Vancouver might not work in Thunder Bay or Edmonton, she said, adding that the federal government would like to see solutions that are rooted in local community support.

Hina Alam, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Volunteers collect and deliver pet food across Greater Victoria during COVID-19 pandemic

Richard Hawkes has ‘food coming out of his ears’ and would love to help those in need

COVID-19 has been impacting Canadian economy since January

But full effects of pandemic won’t be known for months

West Shore RCMP seizes illegal drugs, imitation handguns in Colwood

One man and one woman arrested for weapons-related offences

Alistair MacGregor addresses federal response to COVID-19

Cowichan-Malahat-Langford MP spoke to constituents via Facebook on Wednesday

Mental Health: A look at a fractured system

In this special series, Black Press Media reporters share stories from across Greater Victoria

‘We will get through this’: B.C. sees new COVID-19 death, but 57% have recovered

A total of 1,066 people have tested positive for the novel coronavirus

POLL: Will you be able to make your rent or mortgage payment this month?

With the COVID-19 delivering a devastating blow to the global economy, and… Continue reading

Couple celebrates 61st anniversary through Vancouver Island seniors’ home window

Frank and Rena Phillips marked occasion at Nanaimo Seniors Village this week while social distancing

A look at some of the B.C. inventors creating life-saving tools in fight against COVID-19

Groups across B.C. are working together to create what they hope will help people affected by the pandemic

Association launches French-language games, online tools for families learning at home

Games, culture and vocabulary included in new virtual resources

‘There can be no ambiguity’: Travellers brought home to B.C. must self-isolate

Health Minister Adrian Dix said the mandatory isolation must be abided by

Belle from ‘Beauty and the Beast’ entertains home-bound kids in Cowichan Bay

Alora Killam, 16, played the part in musical two years ago

55+ BC Games cancelled amid COVID-19 concerns

Greater Victoria set to host 2021 event

BC Hydro offers three-month bill ‘holiday’ for those affected by COVID-19

Industrial customers can defer half of their power bills

Most Read