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Vancouver councillor looks to Europe for solution to overdose crisis

Last Updated Oct 19, 2019 at 4:19 pm PST

(Marcella Bernardo, NEWS 1130 Photo)
Summary

On April 14, 2016 the overdose crisis was declared a public health emergency in B.C. and over 3,600 people have died

Coun. Melissa De Genova wants Vancouver to study Portugal's approach

Portugal decriminalized drug possession in 2001, and now has one of the lowest overdose rates in the world

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — With our region still in the throes of an overdose crisis which has claimed thousands of lives, one Vancouver city councillor is suggesting we look to Europe for guidance.

Melissa De Genova wants Vancouver to study Portugal’s approach.

That country decriminalized drug possession in 2001, and now has one of the lowest overdose rates in the world.

Her motion, which will come to council on Oct. 22, notes the many ‘made in Vancouver’ strategies developed to try to stem the tide of fatal overdoses, including supervised consumption sites and overdose prevention sites.

“I think that it’s important to look at the fact that no one approach is going to work in Vancouver like it does in a different country. I’m not saying the Portugal model would solve all of our problems,” she explains. “We’re in an emergency. We’re still in an emergency two years later and I think we’re going to have to take bold action to make sure that we’re moving forward. It’s not just going to be one thing.”

On April 14, 2016 the overdose crisis was declared a public health emergency in British Columbia. Over 3,600 people have lost their lives due to overdose.

De Genova says there is particular urgency to look at making a move to decriminalize possession of opioids

“We need to look at a way to move forward and I think it would be especially geared toward drugs that are at the centre of the epidemic of our overdose crisis.”

She’s also calling for the hiring of a new staff member dedicated to drug policy.

In April of 2019 the provincial health officer released a report recommending that the Province follow Portugal’s lead.

“Immediate provincial action is warranted, and I recommend that the Province of BC urgently move to decriminalize people who possess controlled substances for personal use,” says the report.

The report notes that making changes to criminal law is a federal matter, but says the province can use it’s power under the Police Act in two ways to effectively decriminalize simple drug possession.

“The first option is to use provincial legislation…to set broad provincial priorities with respect to people who use drugs. This could include declaring a public health and harm reduction approach as a provincial priority to guide
law enforcement in decriminalizing and de-stigmatizing people who use drugs,” the report reads.

“The second option is to develop a new regulation under the Police Act to include a provision that prevents any member of a police force in BC from expending resources on the enforcement of simple possession offences.”