A motion to support the decriminalization of the possession of illicit drugs has been passed by Chatham-Kent council.
During last week’s council meeting, Councillor Brock McGregor brought forward the motion requesting a letter be sent to the federal and provincial government. The letter outlined the endorsement and current situation in Chatham-Kent.
McGregor said it is hard to ignore that we are caught in a national and regional pattern of increased opioid use.
“While we look at the things we can do locally, it’s also important to recognize that we should be vocal about things that can be done by other levels of government,” said McGregor.
In a presentation to council, Chatham-Kent Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Colby said overdoses are one of the biggest causes of death in Chatham-Kent.
“Taking this out of the shadows of criminality and transforming it into a medical problem that needs to be managed in an appropriate manner is crucial to dealing with this,” said Colby.
“I don’t think anyone could deny that we are truly in an opioid crisis. Our numbers have been looking bad as a constant for the last several months, and they appear to be getting worse. There were three overdose deaths last week in our community.
In Chatham-Kent, the death rate during the pandemic (April 2020 to March 2021) nearly doubled. This is compared to the previous year (April 2019 to March 2020).
Colby added we must rely on harm reduction and preventative approaches.
“We must not forget that 80 percent of people that are opioid-dependent became so utilizing prescribed opiates by legitimate medical practitioners for specific pain control syndromes. It’s very important we train our medical professionals to understand there has to be very limited use of these compounds to avoid getting hooked.”
According to his presentation, the rate of emergency room visits and opioid-related deaths are greater than they have ever been.
The presentation also highlighted evidence that harm reduction from decriminalization approaches leads to a decrease in criminal records, stigma, high-risk consumption patterns, overdose and an increase in socioeconomic status.
The local rate of opioid-related emergency visits increased more than 280 percent from 2016 to 2020. The number of opioid-related deaths also increased by 400 percent over the four-year period.
“We are in an opioid crisis, and anything that you can do as councillors to further this agenda would be very beneficial to our community and very beneficial to our society at large,” said Colby.
The majority of council members expressed support for the motion.
“There is widespread recognition that this is the second pandemic and that we need to prioritize this issue as a major public health activity as soon as we possibly can,” said Colby.
If the federal government approves a policy to decriminalize the possession of drugs for personal use, the next step would involve determining how the policy would be implemented.
Bird Bouchard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Ridgetown Independent News