This is an open letter to all federal political party leaders from Doctors for Decriminalization, a group of physicians calling for the decriminalization of drugs in favour of a health based approach to substance use.

Overdose Awareness Day was Aug. 31, and with the federal election campaigning underway, we encourage all federal party leaders to prioritize the epidemic of opioid-related deaths during the pandemic by committing to the life-saving act of taking a health centred approach to addressing substance use.

Doctors for Decriminalization is a coalition of Canadian clinicians that recognizes the harms associated with the criminalization of substance use and advocates for responsible and evidence-informed drug and substance policy with the goal to improve the health of all Canadians. Criminalization disproportionately impacts our society’s most marginalized populations, including people living in poverty and people of colour.

Criminalizing the possession and use of drugs punishes the user and has proven grossly ineffective in addressing rates of substance use and its harms. Consequences of criminalization include poorer health outcomes, increased risk of overdose deaths, and the many costs associated when a person has a prison record including difficulty gaining employment, homelessness, and stigmatization.

Despite similar rates of substance use across the board, racialized communities are disproportionately affected by these harms. Judicial discretion around prosecution of substance use continues to fall short, and the redirection of resources from the justice system into supportive initiatives for people living with substance use disorders would save lives.

We call on the federal government and each party leader to commit to taking a health and human rights based approach to substance use by decriminalizing the possession and use of drugs and treating substance use as the public health issue it is. This position is supported by the Canadian Society of Addiction Medicine, and the Canadian Medical Association.

We call on the federal political parties to include the decriminalization of drugs on their campaign platforms.

Dr. Tiffany O’Donnell

Co-chair Doctors for Decriminalization