Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu and Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart speak to the media during a visit to the Molson Overdose Prevention Site in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, Thursday, January 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Federal health minister says too early for broad drug decriminalization

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was not convinced that decriminalizing hard drugs is the solution to the opioid crisis

Canada’s health minister says talk about decriminalizing drugs to deal with the country’s opioids crisis is premature until people have enough help to fight their addictions.

Countries that have taken that step have supports in place to protect people, said Patty Hajdu, who toured the Molson Overdose Prevention Site in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside on Thursday with Mayor Kennedy Stewart.

“My personal perspective on decriminalization is that it can’t be done in a broad sweep,” she said.

The way services are delivered in Canada vary from province to province in terms of what kinds of supports are available, she said.

“So I think that having a comprehensive kind of approach that includes things like prevention, treatment, harm reduction, enforcement, housing, those are the kind of things that are actually going to start to move the needle,” Hajdu said.

ALSO READ: Decriminalizing drugs the next steps in fighting B.C.’s opioid crisis, doctor says

“It’s too premature to have a conversation about full decriminalization of substances until we get to the place where we have comprehensive support for people to get well.”

She said the crisis stems from people struggling with “dire health situations” that need a compassionate and pragmatic response.

Last month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was not convinced that decriminalizing hard drugs is the solution to the opioid crisis, and other options need a chance.

The most recent figures from the Public Health Agency of Canada show that nearly 14,000 Canadians have been killed by opioids since 2016.

Hajdu said the Liberals have invested significantly in ways that are making a difference. Deaths due to overdose are going down because people have wider access to the overdose-reversing drug naloxone, she said.

Stewart said Vancouver has been at the epicentre of the overdose crisis.

“But we’re suddenly seeing it now move across the country with basically the cause being a poison drug supply.”

Hajdu said Vancouver has been leading the way on drug policy.

Harm reduction along with collaboration between public health agencies, non-profit organizations and the city is important to make progress, she said.

What works in Vancouver might not work in Thunder Bay or Edmonton, she said, adding that the federal government would like to see solutions that are rooted in local community support.

Hina Alam, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Councillor Neil Krog wanted to ask Grand Forks voters at December’s byelection if they’d support a year-round homeless shelter and BC Housing’s proposed supportive housing facility. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
No referendum on homelessness solutions after Grand Forks council meeting

The motion by Councillor Neil Krog failed on a tie vote Monday, Oct. 19

A health-care worker prepares to swab a man at a walk-in COVID-19 test clinic in Montreal North, Sunday, May 10, 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes)
Interior Health records 21 new COVID-19 cases over the weekend

Thirty-six cases remain active; two people are in the hospital, one of whom is in intensive care

Ski touring operators are changing how they plan to operate due to the pandemic. Photo: Curtis Cunningham photo
With winter looming, West Kootenay ski tour operators say they’ve adapted

COVID-19 has meant businesses are changing how the upcoming season will run

Advance polls are now open for the 2020 B.C. election. (Black Press File)
BC Votes 2020: Meet your Boundary Similkameen candidates

A round up of candidates’ bios, responses to our questions, and more

Rob Louie has formed a non-profit organization he says will assist band members in legal disputes with their councils. Photo: Submitted
UPDATED: Indigenous legal organization created to help band members keep councils accountable

Rob Louie has created Band Members Alliance and Advocacy Association of Canada

Conservative member of Parliament Pierre Poilievre speaks during a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on October 19, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Liberals say Tory effort to set up COVID-19 committee will be a confidence matter

The Tories were originally proposing an ‘anticorruption’ committee

Investigators work at the Sagmoen farm in Silver Creek. - Image credit: Observer file photo.
Sex workers allegedly called to farm of Okanagan man convicted of assault, RCMP investigating

Curtis Sagmoen, convicted in relation to assault of sex trade workers, is prohibited from soliciting escorts

(Black Press Media files)
Early voters more likely to favour NDP, but overall B.C. election is tightening: poll

According to Elections BC, 383,477 people cast a ballot during advanced voting days

(Pixabay)
Wave of racist emails ‘unleashed’ on B.C. researchers investigating racism in health care

The team has received close to 600 calls and emails since the investigation started in July

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

With local MLA Adam Olsen looking on, BC Greens leader Sonia Furstenau said a Green government would convert BC Ferries into a Crown corporation Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Green leader Sonia Furstenau promises to convert BC Ferries back into Crown corporation

Promise comes Monday afternoon with five days left in campaign

A passer-by walks past a COVID-19 testing clinic in Montreal, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Canada ‘yet to see’ deaths due to recent COVID surge as cases hit 200,000

Much of the increase in case numbers can be attributed to Ontario and Quebec

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Police confirm human remains were found in a recycling bin in Vancouver on Oct. 18, 2020. (Black Press Media file photo)
Human remains found in recycling bin floating near Vancouver beach

Police asking nearby residents to see if their recycling bin has gone missing

Most Read