Vancouver council candidate Judy Graves calls for drug decriminalization to slow fentanyl deaths

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      City council by-election candidate Judy Graves has released a set of "immediate actions" she has proposed to "end the overdose crisis".

      Today (October 2), Graves's OneCity party issued a media release that calls for Vancouver politicians to "address the causes of the overdose crisis, strengthen front line responses, make our city safe for everyone, and advocate for change on national and provincial levels".

      Specifically, the release suggests expanding access to naloxone (brand name Narcan), the so-called overdose antidote that's used to reverse the effects of opioids; establishing new "point of care" programs that can be integrated into existing public facilities; distributing more sharps boxes around the city where people who use intravenous drugs can safely dispose of used needles; and setting up a "city-wide needle clean-up program" to further reduce the problem of discarded drug paraphernalia.

      In addition, the release states that Graves, a long-time advocate for the homeless who previously worked for the City of Vancouver, supports the "decriminalization of all drugs​, including diverted prescription medications".

      Decriminalizing drugs would involve the federal government making amendments to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. The idea would be to remove criminal penalties for personal possession to reduce stigma around illicit-drug use so that people are more willing to ask for help with an addiction, to access treatment, and to take advantage of safer-consumption services.

      Adrienne Smith, a Vancouver-based drug-policy lawyer who previously worked with Pivot Legal Society, is quoted in the release as supporting Graves's plan: “Judy has the courage and experience to make the changes Vancouver needs to stop the fentanyl epidemic...Of course the solution will need to include all levels of government and we need Judy at City Hall.”

      This year, it is projected that almost 400 people will die of an illicit-drug overdose in Vancouver, up from 231 in 2016, 136 in 2015, and 101 the year before that. During the first seven months of 2017, the synthetic opioid fentanyl was detected in 81 percent of illicit-drug-overdose deaths in B.C.

      Graves's call for the federal government to decriminalize all drugs isn't as radical a position as some might think.

      Just last week, on September 26, B.C. politicians and bureaucrats met at the annual gathering of the Union of B.C. Municipalities; there, several high-ranking officials expressed similar sentiments.

      “Fentanyl is a textbook example of what happens when prohibition takes over,” said Mark Tyndall, executive medical director of the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, deputy provincial health officer for B.C., and professor of medicine at UBC. “Substances get easier and easier to import, more and more potent, and this is what we’re left with.”

      Graves is competing for a council seat that was left vacant in July when Vision’s Geoff Meggs resigned to take a job in the office of new NDP premier John Horgan.

      The by-election is scheduled for October 14.

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