Overdose, self-medication and trafficking: the risks of permitting the possession of hard drugs in Canada

From 2023, a person found with up to 2.5 grams of cocaine, heroin, ecstasy or other hard drug in the province of British Columbia, western Canada , will no longer be considered criminal. Instead of subjecting themselves to fines or going to prison, the user will receive information about social and health services.

The decision was made on Tuesday of last week (31), along with the official announcement that other provinces can join the novelty in the country. “We do this to save lives, but also to help people who use drugs regain dignity and the right to choose,” Carolyn Bennett, Federal Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, said in a statement.

According to with the head of the same portfolio, but at the provincial level, Sheila Malcolmson, police forces will be able to “focus on organized crime and drug traffickers, rather than on isolated users”.

According to Malcolmson, this is not about legalizing drugs. “Decriminalization removes criminal sanctions for possessing small amounts of illicit drugs for personal use. Drug trafficking remains illegal”, he declares.

However, experts believe that this type of public policy can actually favor small traffickers, in addition to increasing the risks of addiction for users.

Measure can stimulate consumption

The psychiatrist Ricardo Assmé, professor at Universidade Positivo and specialist in chemical dependency, explains that the amount of drug purchased, even by frequent users, it usually does not exceed 2 grams at a time, which is within the maximum allowed by the new Canadian law. In this way, not only “weekend” users can go unpunished, but also drug addicts and small drug dealers.

In addition, according to the psychiatrist, those who consume a small amount of illicit drugs can develop tolerance to them, needing more and more substance to achieve the same psychoactive effects. “Consumers should be inhibited in the beginning, with small portions, so as not to evolve into large quantities”, Assmé points out.

The specialist doctor also reinforces that preventing consumption is a condition of public safety. “For you to succeed in a national drug policy, anywhere in the world, it is critical that you inhibit all points in this cycle. From planting the drug, to production, transport, sale and consumption.”

There is no safe amount

Diogo Bornancin, psychiatrist and researcher at the Federal University of Paraná, specialist in drugs, highlights that there is no safe amount for the use of narcotics. “We know that small amounts of cocaine, for example, can already considerably increase the risk of stroke”, he warns.

For Bornancin, measures like the one taken by Canada can be harmful “if access to illicit drugs increases”, as “greater access results in greater recreational use”. Recreational use, in turn, can lead to harmful use and, ultimately, to chemical dependence. “If adequate public policies are not instituted, there may be the misperception that drug use is less harmful than it really is”, he concludes.

The specialist also talks about the concern with self-medication. . When the use of hard drugs is no longer prohibited, people can use them as if they were medicine or stimulants, without real control of the consequences.

In the book Drugs and the law: a psychological analysis of drug prohibition (no edition in Brazil), the American researcher and professor of public anti-drug policy, Robert MacCoun, a world reference on the subject, emphasizes that any sudden change in the drug law “is inadvisable”, as the “consequences in relation to consumption are unknown”, especially due to the lack of available social controls.

Between decriminalization and legalization

Decriminalization of hard drugs in the Canadian province comes amid a spike in overdose cases and hospitalizations. In 2021, British Columbia recorded more than 2,200 deaths linked to these drugs, the equivalent of 6 people a day. Nationwide, from January 2016 to September 2021, a thousand deaths and more than 31 were recorded 1,000 overdoses, according to government data.

Canada announced the measure as an experiment that can be replicated in other provinces. Among the softer drugs, there has been legalization since 2018, when recreational use of marijuana for adults was released nationwide.

Columbia Britannia is the second jurisdiction in North America to decriminalize the possession of hard drugs for personal use, after Oregon, a progressive US state, in November 2020.

The situation in Oregon, USA

Despite having achieved some goals against the stigmatization of drug users, in a few months the American state faced a serious problem: the collapsed drug addiction treatment and recovery system, unprepared to meet greater demand.

As Mike Marshall, co-founder and director of Oregon Recovers, told National Public Radio, “Advocates of decriminalization don’t know the health side and don’t understand how recovery works.”

In the same report, Jim Ferraris, former president of the Chief’s Association s of Oregon Police, comments that, despite the decrease in the number of arrests, chemical dependency persists. “People are still committing crimes to get money, buy drugs, sustain the habit,” he opines. The officer also points out that residents of other states travel to Oregon to consume drugs. Finally, he warns: “Odoses will increase, crime will increase, and cartel drug trafficking will continue to grow.”

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