Retired police officer calls for safe opioid drug supply for users

·3 min read
Vern White, a former RCMP assistant commissioner and retired Ottawa police chief, is calling for more overdose prevention sites and to have them offer a safe supply of drugs to users. (Submitted by Vern White - image credit)
Vern White, a former RCMP assistant commissioner and retired Ottawa police chief, is calling for more overdose prevention sites and to have them offer a safe supply of drugs to users. (Submitted by Vern White - image credit)

A retired police officer says supplying medical grade opioids to drug users could reduce crime and deaths from illicit drugs.

Vern White, a Canadian senator, former assistant commissioner for the RCMP and retired chief of the Ottawa police force, said 17 people die every day in Canada from accidental drug overdose.

He is calling for more overdose prevention sites and to have them offer a safe supply of drugs to users.

"Immediately, the community will see a positive impact, because they won't be the victims of crimes being committed by a number of these drug addicts," White said.

"On top of the fact that we will save lives, so we will drive that number of 17 down if we can get into a safe supply program across the country."

White said police forces have mostly decriminalized drug use. Instead of going after the users, they have targeted the suppliers.

But that approach is not reducing the number of deaths due to illicit drug use, he said.

Need more than naloxone

Harm reduction strategies have also focused on the use of naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of opioid overdose, said White, but that has only stemmed the tide of deaths.

"We looked at naloxone saving lives for people who overdosed and it's working, and you know we'd probably be at 30 or 35 deaths a day instead of 17," he said.

"It's still not the answer because we continue to see people overdosing in some communities in this country every hour or so. People are overdosing and either brought back to life or lost."

Offering users a safe supply and a safe location to use drugs will lower the number of deaths and reduce the crime that often supports illicit drug use, White said.

An adjunct professor at several international universities and an international consultant on policing policy, White has written several articles on the increasing problem of synthetic opioids and calling for a different approach to drug enforcement.

He said saving lives is important, but switching to a safe supply policy could also lower crime rates.

"The public are going to have to get behind this and say that you know what, dead body after dead body is not a solution to a drug problem and that we can actually make for an overall safer community by doing this," White said.

Tom Ayers/CBC
Tom Ayers/CBC

Nova Scotia has one overdose prevention site, in Halifax, and the government is adding at least two more.

The Ally Centre of Cape Breton expects to get one of those sites. Organizers are hoping to tap into a national pilot project that would place a high-tech vending machine in Sydney that dispenses a safe dose of the opioid hydromorphone to select users.

Provincial statistics show the death rate from street drugs in the province's eastern health zone, which includes Cape Breton, is 15.4 people per 100,000 population. The national rate is 8.4.

White, who is originally from New Waterford, said Cape Breton will have a challenge if it only offers a safe supply program in Sydney.

"You're going to have to run it in Glace Bay, North Sydney, New Waterford, Sydney. You're going to have to have five or six locations, because you're not typically going to have an opioid addict ... who can actually move between communities to access their treatment."

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