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Nurses Association calling for municipalities to support decriminalization of simple drug possession

HealthcareNurses Association calling for municipalities to support decriminalization of simple drug possession

Ahead of municipal elections taking place across the province on Oct. 24, the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO) and its members are calling on mayoral candidates to help save lives by pledging to seek decriminalization of simple drug possession in their communities.

In 2021, preliminary data from Public Health Ontario reported an average of eight people per day died from an opioid-related overdose across the province – an alarming 85 per cent increase over pre-pandemic levels. 

According to preliminary data from Public Health Ontario, 54 people died in the Brant County Region from opioid-overdoses in 2021 – a 39 per cent increase since 2020. In addition, there were 294 emergency department visits and 37 hospitalizations for opioid-related overdoses. Brant County Public Health issued a Public Health Safety alert on July 26, 2022 due to an increase in overdose incidents –the Brantford Police Service responded to 19 opioid overdose incidents, including six deaths from July 1 to 25, 2022. 

Launched this week, RNAO’s #DecriminalizeNow campaign encourages candidates running for mayor to support a harm reduction approach if elected by following in the footsteps of other cities across Canada – Montreal, Edmonton and Vancouver. Those cities have passed motions urging the federal government to decriminalize simple drug possession in their jurisdictions under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA). The Vancouver council’s motion triggered a three-year exemption from the CDSA for British Columbia that will go into effect on Jan. 31, 2023. Under the exemption, anyone 18 or older will not be arrested or charged for possessing up to 2.5 grams of certain illicit drugs.

“Substance use is a public health matter, not a criminal problem. Every life lost due to an accidental overdose could’ve been prevented if appropriate supports and measures were readily available and easily accessible to individuals when they need it,” said Dr. Doris Grinspun, RNAO CEO. “Decriminalizing simple drug possession is a crucial step to remove the stigma associated with substance use as well as the barriers to health care that often force people to use alone. Individuals at risk need to know they are not alone, and decriminalization is one way to provide that reassurance.”

RNAO and its members are sending letters to mayoral candidates in more than 20 municipalities with local data and information so they know how their pledge can make a positive impact. In addition to more supervised consumption sites and an expansion of safer supply programs and initiatives, decriminalizing simple drug possession is a key to minimizing the risk of overdose and addressing other community harms associated with unsupervised drug use. 

“Nurses have been sounding the alarm on this preventable health crisis and offering evidence-based substance use policy since before the pandemic, yet we have continued to see the number of deaths, hospitalizations and emergency visits soar due to limited or no direct services and supports and an increasingly toxic drug supply,” said Dr. Claudette Holloway, RNAO President. “Through this campaign, we are urging mayoral candidates to confront the impacts of the overdose crisis in their cities and to take action upon election.”

For more information on the #DecriminalizeNow campaign and to see who signed the pledge, please visit RNAO’s dedicated web page. Also, RNAO’s fact sheet provides an overview of overdoses from toxic drug supply. 

The Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO) is the professional association representing registered nurses, nurse practitioners and nursing students in Ontario. Since 1925, RNAO has advocated for healthy public policy, promoted excellence in nursing practice, increased nurses’ contribution to shaping the health system, and influenced decisions that affect nurses and the public we serve. For more information about RNAO, visit RNAO.ca or follow us on TwitterFacebook and Instagram.

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