Runtime: 29:56

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Summary

The criminalization of substance use causes demonstrable harms: it isolates people who use drugs, pushes them to use in riskier ways, and deters them from seeking help when they need it. Even so, the possession of illicit street drugs for personal consumption is still criminalized in British Columbia and the rest of Canada.

In this episode, addiction physician Dr. Christy Sutherland and journalist David Ball discuss the years-long overdose crisis in British Columbia, how the criminalization of substance use negatively impacts lives and health, and what role clinicians can play in reducing these harms in the absence of systemic change.
 

Lineup

In this episode, you’ll hear:

  • 3:22 – Dr. Bonnie Henry – Provincial Health Officer, Province of British Columbia
  • 12:32 – Amber Streukens – Peer Health Navigator with ANKORS and Rural Empowered Drug Users Network (REDUN)
  • 19:22 – Scott Bernstein – Lawyer and Director of Policy at the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition 

 
Pearls

Here’s what listeners can take away from this episode:

  1. Family medicine is a community-based discipline. That means advocating for addressing the larger issues impacting patients’ health, including the toxic illicit drug supply, and changing the social isolation of people who use illicit drugs — which can put patients at risk.
  2. By treating drug use as a criminal justice issue instead of a public health issue, people will be less likely to access live-saving medical care: they may avoid calling 911 in the event of an overdose or informing their family doctor of their drug use.  
  3. When people are released from incarceration, risk of overdose death increases 8-fold following release; risk of HIV and Hepatitis C increase. 
  4. Most overdose deaths occur to people who do not use opiates daily. No pharmacologic intervention to protect this population from death: for example, it wouldn’t be appropriate to start someone who uses opiates once a month on Opioid Agonist Treatment. It’s hard to find a medical solution to prevent deaths caused by criminal justice policy.
  5. As clinicians we follow people over time, sometimes also taking care of their loved ones. When we see a harm caused by a system, we have a powerful voice to ask for change to address the root cause, to improve quality of life and to reduce the risk of mortality.

 
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