‘Addiction not a crime’

Dear Editor:

Last Thursday, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP) issued a report supporting an idea that those of us working in the addiction sector have been advocating for years: addiction is a health issue, not a crime.

As a provider of residential and community based addiction treatment services since 1971, Stonehenge Therapeutic Community would like to thank the CACP for their progressive, evidence-based, harm reduction approach to transforming how our society understands and supports individuals with substance use disorder. Your collective voice is vital in helping us move this issue forward.

Among other important recommendations, the report endorses the decriminalization of simple illicit drug possession and safe supply programs. Stonehenge is in full support of these approaches and will continue to advocate and work to make them a reality.

Substance use disorder is a health issue that does not discriminate and impacts people from all walks of life – this is true now more than ever. Research has shown that 38% of Ontarians report an increase in their substance use as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This increase can in part be attributed to the unprecedented isolation people are facing.

This isolation has also resulted in a worsening of the opioid crisis and an even greater increase in the number of people dying from accidental overdose. Now is the time for change. By implementing the recommendations made by the CACP we can remove barriers to wellness, reduce the harm of substance use and save lives.

For too long we have persisted in viewing substance use disorder as a moral failing despite significant research and evidence to the contrary. Understanding addiction as a public health issue is a transformative shift for society that is long overdue. If we change how we understand it, then we can change how we respond. Responding by redirecting individuals away from the justice system and into health-based services, will allow us to stop ineffectively trying to arrest our way out of a health problem.

In order to push this change forward, we must build this shared understanding in our community. Stonehenge will continue to build on the already strong collaboration with our policing and health colleagues to advocate for change and the treatment options that are needed.

Support for the decriminalization of simple possession of illicit drugs and safe supply programs would ensure that people with a health issue receive a health-based response, and treat individuals with the respect they deserve while instilling hope for their future.

Kristin Kerr,
Executive director, Stonehenge Therapeutic Community, Guelph