Can Decriminalization of Drugs Tackle the Opioid Crisis?

As Toronto Public Health and the Toronto Police Service jointly apply to decriminalize personal use drugs in Canada’s largest city, asked stakeholders if it could work in Greater Sudbury

Toronto Public Health, in collaboration with the Toronto Police Service, recently reapplied to Health Canada Decriminalization of personal use drugs within city limits As part of his effort to tackle the opioid crisis.

When asked whether Toronto’s plan would work here in Sudbury, Public Health Sudbury and Districts (PHSD) and Greater Sudbury Police told they have no official position on the strategy, but the PHSD is what it is now. Can see both benefits and challenges. This is being called the “Toronto Model”.

Initially submitted in January 2022, the now updated application from Ontario’s capital asks Health Canada to go beyond a recent exemption granted to British Columbia.

Effective January 31, Health Canada has granted BC a three-year non-criminalisation exemption covering adults and certain drugs – namely, opioids, crack and powder cocaine, meth and MDMA – and up to a combined 2.5 grams of otherwise illegal drugs Possession has been decriminalised.

The Toronto Model does not outline any proposed limits, nor does it place any limits on the types of substances one can possess. The city is calling for all drugs for personal use to be decriminalized and adults and youths exempt from its purview.

It will extend to the entire city except schools, child care facilities and airports.

Toronto Public Health’s stated goal is to “reduce the mental, physical and social harms associated with criminalizing people for possessing drugs for personal use.”

In the application itself, the Toronto Police Service states that their data shows that in 36 cases out of 617 possession charges in 2021, possession was the only charge. In 581 of these cases, the charge of possession was in addition to other charges Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

Decriminalization has proven effective in many countries around the world. Czechia, the Netherlands, Portugal and Switzerland are among a handful of countries that have decriminalized drug use and possession for personal use and have invested in harm reduction programs.

according to a New York Times analysisThe number of heroin users in Portugal has dropped from 100,000 to only 25,000 today. The number of HIV diagnoses resulting from injection drug use has dropped by more than 90 percent. Over the past 20 years, levels of drug use in Portugal have been consistently lower than the European average, especially among young people between the ages of 15–34.

Instead of prison cells, drug-dependent individuals in Portugal are now offered treatment programs that integrate them back into society. Even the police officers have benefited, they are now free to focus on curbing mass smuggling and exposing traffickers.

A 2015 study found that since Portugal approved this new national strategy, the per capita social cost of substance use decreased by 18 percent.
For more on the Portugal model, check out’s coverage here.

But those countries managed decriminalization at the national level, while Toronto will be at the municipal level. asked GSPS and PHSD about the application to see if any aspects of it could be used at the municipal level in Nickel City.

Although GSPS will be responsible for the enforcement aspect, he said any comment from his side “would be premature” until they discussed it. community medicine strategy, is made up of more than 40 agencies in the region. The last meeting of the Community Medicine Strategy was held on 20 June. Although it previously met quarterly, the group has now moved to monthly meetings.

Public Health Sudbury has no official position on decriminalization, but is aware of several models in use around the country.

“We believe that decriminalizing drug use can be beneficial,” said Carlo Cercelli, health promoter for the PHSD. “We also recognize that there are some potential risks of non-criminalisation.”

Circelli’s role includes conducting research, analyzing evidence for informed practices in the health unit, and she said that as an agency, the PHSD is pleased to see Toronto Public Health “decriminalize drug use for personal use.” These are worthwhile efforts being made, especially with such a toxic and unstable drug supply.

The transition from the justice system to the health care system is a good start for people who use drugs, Cerkelli said.

“Removing those criminal penalties and sanctions and helping to reduce stigma for people who use drugs can make it easier for them to access treatment and services,” he said. “Being indebted, fined Or rather than face or potentially be punished.” criminal record.”

The potential risks of drug criminalization in Toronto are reduced to city limits.

“They (Toronto Public Health) recognized in their letter that policing the Greater Toronto Area border can be difficult, as it does not apply to the entire province,” Circelli said. “So maybe, it can be a bit challenging to enforce the rules and exemptions on the borders of the GTA.”

Circelli said that although he agrees that there is a need for more social support and treatment options for people who use substances, the evidence shows that decriminalizing drugs for personal use is “a model There is no “one size fits all” situation.

“There are certainly other ways to approach and combat the toxic drug crisis that will help reduce high rates of use and overdose deaths,” he added. “The harm reduction perspective is important, including the supervised consumption services that we offer here in Sudbury, which essentially allow people who use drugs a safe place to do so .

Circelli said that in addition to handing out safe equipment, drug testing services would help reduce harm.

“When people move to a state of supervised consumption, they may know the exact composition of their drug, especially with such a volatile and toxic drug supply,” he added. “We want to make sure there is no risk of any contamination within the substance.”

Circelli also said that there are services that could be combined with drug decriminalization, such as increased mental health support and increased social services, to ensure a more complete model.

Circelli said that he would closely follow the Toronto model, and said that although he could not predict what would happen with the Toronto Public Health application, he said it was likely that it would lead to Ontario decriminalizing prescription drugs for personal use. There can be a comprehensive effort. capture.

The city currently plans to host a leadership summit on the drug crisis, tentatively scheduled for October. Council voted to create a conference to address the issues of the opioid epidemic in Sudbury after a presentation by Ontario’s Chief Coroner, Dirk Heuer.

Heuer was invited by Ward 6 County. René Lapierre, who told fellow councilors his proposal for making the summit, saw a need to “think outside the box”, beyond “anti-stigma campaigns, awareness and education, naloxone distribution, drug warnings, supervised consumption sites”. for going. accessible treatment, proactive, informed enforcement and much more.”

For more information about the Toronto model, Click here,

Jenny Lamothe covers vulnerable and marginalized communities for

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