It’s Time for a New Approach on the War on Drugs: Report

Canada needs a public health approach to managing illegal psychoactive substances that de-emphasizes criminalization and stigma in favor of evidence-based strategies to reduce harm, according to a new policy report from the Canadian Public Health Association (CPHA).

In a report to be released Tuesday, June 27, 2014 during Public Health 2014, Canada’s largest annual gathering of public health professionals, CPHA argues that drug policies based on prohibition have failed to prevent the use of illegal psychoactive substances. Instead, they have caused serious harm, often for the most vulnerable Canadians.

“Prohibition has engendered an environment that fuels the growth of illegal markets, organized crime, violent injuries, and the deaths of users, dealers, and police,” said Ian Culbert, CPHA’s Executive Director. “It also has adverse public health consequences such as accelerating the spread of HIV and hepatitis C, and increasing overdose deaths from concentrated and contaminated products.”

Domestically, provincial and territorial governments are at the forefront of delivering public health services to address illegal psychoactive substances issues, while municipalities such as Vancouver, Toronto, and others have incorporated public health principles into local strategies. Internationally, countries such as Switzerland, Norway, Australia, Portugal and Uruguay have developed innovative approaches that ensure that public health is central to their illegal psychoactive substance strategies. Their focus is on reducing harms and providing access to health services to all individuals who require them.

“An alternative to prohibition and criminalization exists,” said Culbert, “a public health approach that is based on the principles of social justice, attention to human rights and equity, evidence-informed policy and practice, and addressing the underlying determinants of health.”

Founded in 1910, the Canadian Public Health Association (CPHA) is the independent voice for public health in Canada with links to the international community. CPHA’s mission is to enhance the health of people in Canada and to contribute to a healthier and more equitable world. As the only Canadian non-governmental organization focused exclusively on public health, CPHA is uniquely positioned to advise decision-makers about public health system reform and to guide initiatives to help safeguard the personal and community health of Canadians and people around the world.

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