In a recent opinion article published in the Vancouver Sun, author and journalist Daphne Bramham discussed the potential issues arising with the use of certain words in the context of discussion of Canada’s opioid crisis, and how this colours what solutions are used.
According to Bramham, debates around addressing the opioid crisis involve emotive words and euphemism, with the crisis itself being used as a ‘weapon’ during the federal election campaign by misuse of the words ‘decriminalization’ and ‘legalization’.
In her article, Bramham also cited the findings of a recent report released by the Canadian Association of People Who Use Drugs (CAPUD), which argued for full legalization of all mind-altering recreational drugs, including fentanyl, heroin, cocaine, ecstasy and LSD. Fentanyl-laced drugs are an important contributor to the overdose crisis, and the author suggests that referring to it as a ‘supply problem’ and ‘poisoning crisis’ removes the important focus from treating addictions and failing to address the underlying pain or psychological issues.
A footnote contained in a June 2019 report by the Vancouver City Council demonstrated that the staff were not certain whether to use the term ‘safer supply’ or ‘safe supply.’ “One can never make a drug perfectly safe: people can overdose from alcohol, not following a prescription, or from taking non-prescription drugs like marijuana or even aspirin,” read the footnote, also indicating that staff went with the term ‘safe’ and not ‘safer,’ “given the intent is for a regulated, poison-free supply.”
Moreover, Bramham points out that the vast majority of fentanyl-related deaths in Canada have come from illegal sources, making it unclear to what ‘safe’ supply refers. The City of Vancouver is currently funding the hydromorphone dispersal pilot project carried out by the B.C. Centre of Disease Control (BCCDC), which involves dispensing pharmaceutical grade opioids at an overdose prevention site to facilitate treatment and recovery.
The B.C. Centre on Substance Use (BCCSU) has launched a drug-checking program for dealers and users at five locations in Metro Vancouver to check for fentanyl, and has also been advocating for heroin compassion clubs, where health care providers would sell diacetylmorphine or potentially give it free of charge. In addition, dispensing heroin from vending machines was previously suggested by BCCDC.
Bramham also cites the fact that although regulated opioid sale could prevent overdose-related deaths, it may not be effective in diminishing organized crime and sale of opioids on the back market, such as in the case of cannabis legalization. The journalist made a reference to the example to the Portugal model, where opioid drug decriminalization is used to focus on treatment and recovery to help addicted individuals get necessary help.