Registered Nurses of Ontario want decriminalization of simple drug possession

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The Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO) and its members are calling on mayoral candidates to help save lives by pledging to seek decriminalization of simple drug possession in their communities.

According to the RNAO, preliminary data from from Public Health Ontario reported an average of eight people per day died from an opioid-related overdose across the province in 2021. That’s an alarming 85 per cent increase over pre-pandemic levels.

The new #DecriminalizeNow campaign encourages candidates running for mayor to support a harm reduction approach if elected.  Cities like Montreal, Edmonton ,and Vancouver have already passed motions urging the federal government to decriminalize simple drug possession in their jurisdictions.

The campaign was launched ahead of the municipal elections taking place across the province on October 24, 2022.

“Substance use is a public health matter, not a criminal problem. Every life lost due to an accidental overdose could’ve been prevented if appropriate supports and measures were readily available and easily accessible to individuals when they need it,” said RNAO CEO Dr. Doris Grinspun. “Decriminalizing simple drug possession is a crucial step to remove the stigma associated with substance use as well as the barriers to health care that often force people to use alone. Individuals at risk need to know they are not alone, and decriminalization is one way to provide that reassurance.”

RNAO and its members are sending letters to mayoral candidates in more than 20 municipalities with local data and information so they know how their pledge can make a positive impact. In addition to more supervised consumption sites and an expansion of safer supply programs and initiatives, decriminalizing simple drug possession is a key to minimizing the risk of overdose and addressing other community harms associated with unsupervised drug use.

“Nurses have been sounding the alarm on this preventable health crisis and offering evidence-based substance use policy since before the pandemic, yet we have continued to see the number of deaths, hospitalizations and emergency visits soar due to limited or no direct services and supports and an increasingly toxic drug supply,” said RNAO President Dr. Claudette Holloway. “Though this campaign, we are urging mayoral candidates to confront the impacts of the overdose crisis in their cities and to take action upon election.”