The Kingston, Frontenac, and Lennox & Addington (KFL&A) Community Drug Strategy Advisory Committee (CDSAC) is consulting the local community in order to explore the decriminalization of illicit substances for personal use.
Community members in the KFL&A region are asked to complete an online survey and share their thoughts on decriminalization. The CDSAC has also been hosting focus groups throughout Kingston connecting specifically with some of those who are most affected by the drug poisoning crisis, according to a release from KFL&A CDSAC.
“The KFL&A region has experienced a significant surge in deaths related to opioids, with 43 deaths attributed to opioids in 2020. This is a 72 per cent increase of fatalities compared to 2017 and a 330 per cent increase since 2014,” said Susan Stewart, director of community health and wellbeing at KFL&A Public Health. “To address this crisis, the KFL&A CDSAC, a table of community partners representing the health, social services, academia, and justice sectors, municipalities, and people with lived and living experience, is working collaboratively with community partners on initiatives related to substance use prevention, harm reduction and treatment.”
The Advisory Committee noted that the current drug possession policy, oriented towards prohibition and criminalization, has not been effective in deterring drug use or treating addiction as a health issue. Instead, it has resulted in negative consequences for both people who use substances and society. The stigma associated with substance use and the fear of criminal charges hinder access to treatment and harm reduction services, leading to riskier substance use behaviours and increased harm, according to the release.
Decriminalization of personal possession of drugs is being explored globally, with over 30 countries reporting positive outcomes such as reduced drug use, drug-related deaths, HIV rates and problematic drug use, as well as decreased judicial and health care costs. Additionally, decriminalization coupled with harm reduction, health and social services has also led to increased treatment access and improved community relations with law enforcement, benefiting individuals who use substances and society as a whole, according to the committee.
The feedback received from the community will help inform next steps in responding to the drug poisoning crisis and may inform a Health Canada application to decriminalize personal possession of unregulated substances in the KFL&A region, the KFL&A CDSAC stated.
The anonymous survey is open for participation until Monday, May 15, 2023.