If NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh was truthful in his election pledge to treat the opioid crisis as a national health emergency he might be the difference between life and death for those struggling with addiction, one researcher says.
Donald MacPherson, executive director of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, told Black Press Media Tuesday that combating the war on drugs by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberals will all depend on how hard Singh pushes for action.
“They [the Liberals] know many people have been calling for decriminalization, including many public health officials, and they have said in the lead up to the election they aren’t going to talk about it or consider it,” MacPherson said.
“The NDP have been very clear; they are clearly for decriminalization of possession of illegal drugs for personal use, like other countries have done, such as Portugal or Czech Republic.”
In B.C., roughly five people are dying from illicit drug overdoses every two days, according to the most recent data from the B.C. Coroners Service. Across the country, more than 13,000 people have fatally overdosed since 2016, causing Canada’s average life expectancy to decrease for the first time in four decades.
Within the last two years, a number of vocal health advocates – including two of B.C.’s top doctors – have called for governments to make prescription heroin and other opioid replacements accessible in order to combat the toxic street supply.
Better access to health care, specifically national pharmacare, was one of Singh’s most highly-touted platform policies. On the campaign trail, Singh said he’d declare the overdose crisis a national health emergency if elected – a move that former federal health minister Ginette Petitpas-Taylor and the Liberals have refused to do.
He also said he’d stop the criminalization of people dealing with addiction. But the NDP leader stopped short of pledging any action on creating a safe drug supply, which MacPherson argued is what is needed in today’s “ongoing overdose and drug poisoning crisis.”
Singh dodged questions by reporters about any plans to form a coalition-like agreement with Trudeau and his newly elected minority government during a news conference in Burnaby Tuesday.
MacPherson said its promising that an elected politician with potential weight in future legislative decisions is based out of Metro Vancouver, where the lions share of overdose deaths are happening.
On the other hand, minority governments also tend to leave parties acting more risk averse when it comes to controversial legislation – and drug decriminalization is certainly no exception – MacPherson said.
“This minority federal government might be willing to take the next steps, but only if they are pushed forward by the NDP,” he said. “If they choose to push forward other issued like pharmacare or housing or whatever, they might not be prioritizing decriminalization.”