Legalization of all non medical use of drugs is an attainable goal. But confronting the opioid crisis is an urgent and unprecedented call to action. Public health experts and their activist allies are leading the way. Let's not get caught up in complicated and protracted arguments about legalization of all drugs.
Across Canada, the tragic spike in opioid-related deaths has brought to national attention the large and complex issue of drug use and misuse. As fentanyl-related overdoses are gripping the country, there is a connected, but separate crisis of doctor-prescribed opioids being increasingly used on a regular, long-term basis.
Hundreds of codeine tablets stolen from the medicine cabinet of an elderly person living alone in a rural community. Hydromorphone tablets being distributed at weddings and high school parties. Fentanyl patches being cut up and sold for a profit on the street. This is the reality of the opioid crisis in Canada today.
What distinguishes this epidemic is not only its catastrophic toll --hundreds of thousands dead, uncountable millions harmed -- but also the fact that, unlike SARS, Ebola or influenza, this epidemic has no end in sight. The "why" is complicated, but it relates in part to prevalent beliefs about the role of these drugs in medical practice.
Canadians might be surprised to learn that many health and social services widely available in the community are not available in most of Canada's correctional facilities -- this needs to change. We are missing a critical window of opportunity to reframe the period of incarceration as a time to help people improve their health and well-being before returning to our communities.
In my practice, I have seen the terrible impact addiction can have on people of all backgrounds. It destroys jobs, families and personal health, often in the span of just a few months. This level of complexity and quick-moving consequence is something you don't often see in many other conditions, which makes finding solutions that much harder. Addressing addiction requires approaching treatment in a much more integrated fashion across different parts of the health care system and groups of providers.
Critics have begun pointing the finger at the medical system and its prescribers -- well-meaning doctors and specialists who've been giving too many patients excessively powerful opioid medications to deal with modest pain. But we can dig deeper and look at the relationship between medical education and pharmaceutical company influence as a significant contributing factor.