Green Party Leader Elizabeth May says it’s time the federal government declared the opioid crisis a national emergency and decriminalized illicit drugs to prevent deaths.
“This is not a criminal issue. This is a health issue, and we have to adequately support people in our society who are dealing with illness and ill health,” May told Stephen Quinn, the host of CBC’s The Early Edition.
The CBC has asked all federal parties to comment on the issue of a safe drug supply. Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has declined to comment. The NDP and Liberal parties have not yet provided a response.
During the CBC interview Tuesday morning, May, who is also MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands on Vancouver Island, did not explicitly support the idea that the government should provide a safe supply of opioids, which are increasingly contaminated with fentanyl.
“If we don’t control it, we will lose people,” May told Quinn. “You can die from a very small amount of fentanyl, so our position as the Greens is we have to decriminalize.”
Late Tuesday, May’s spokesperson clarified in an email to CBC that she does in fact support a safe supply, as well as decriminalization of illicit drugs across Canada.
People on the front lines of the opioid crisis have long said creating a supply of clean drugs and removing the criminal element will cut down on the number of people dying of overdoses.
May points to findings from a Statistics Canada report that say life expectancy rates in Canada have stopped increasing for the first time in four decades because of deadly overdoses.
She says the overdose crisis has become a public health emergency — one that affects people across the country and across all walks of life.
More than 11,500 opioid-related deaths occurred in Canada between January 2016 and December 2018, according to provincial data gathered by the federal government. In 2018, 73 per cent of those deaths involved fentanyl or fentanyl-related substances.
May acknowledges Canadians and politicians have been resistant to the idea of government providing illicit drugs to those struggling with addiction. She believes part of the reason is due to the framing of the issue.
“I think we mischaracterize it when we refer to the deaths as overdoses. These are poisonings.”
She adds that the cost of investing further in harm reduction is also a factor in the lack of political will.
The Green Party leader says her party’s election platform will identify new revenue sources to fund mental health and addiction treatment.