Vancouver city councillor Kerry Jang has an article in the prestigious medical journal the Lancet Psychiatry this month.
Co-authored with Michael Krausz, the two members of UBC’s department of psychiatry argue that a sharp increase in drug-overdose deaths across North America is largely the result of what they describe as the “failed war on drugs”.
“Drug seizures remain ineffective despite huge increases in interdiction operations and budgets,” the January 2018 article reads.
“This ideology has made access to substitution treatment in North America difficult and greatly hindered establishment of harm-reduction responses such as safe injection facilities and needle exchange.”
It’s estimated more than 1,400 people in B.C. died of an illicit-drug overdose in 2017. That’s up from an average of 204 fatal overdoses annually from 2001 to 2010. The synthetic-opioid fentanyl was associated with more than 80 percent of 2017 deaths, up from four percent in 2012.
Other jurisdictions across North America, such as Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania, have experienced similar increases in overdose deaths.
In addition to an enforcement-centric response to addiction that Jang and Krausz maintain is rooted in ideology, they attribute the development of North America’s opioid crisis to structural problems that persist in mental-health-care systems.
“A fundamental barrier to effective care is that addiction and other mental illnesses remain separate disciplines and care streams in North America despite decades of clinical research,” they explain.
“Access to appropriate metal health services for the most vulnerable is inadequate,” Jang and Krausz conclude. “The psychiatry discipline should take a leadership role to address this public health crisis by developing new integrated treatment approaches with addiction medicine and work on a fundamental system change instead of operating within its traditional silo and protecting the profession.”