Legal Response in Canada to the Opioid Crisis.

AuthorSchmidt, Ryley
PositionFeature: Health Law

Over the past few years, there has been a profound increase in the number of deaths associated with problematic opioid use in Canada. From the beginning of 2016 to mid-2018, there have been over 10,300 opioid-related deaths. And according to Statistics Canada, the national life expectancy at birth did not increase from 2016 to 2017 for either males or females. This is the first plateau in over four decades, and the government largely attributes the opioid crisis. Although this phenomenon is concentrated in Western Canada, with British Columbia declaring a health emergency over the matter, problematic opioid use and deaths resulting from such use is a nation-wide problem.

The background behind this current crisis is a complex, multi-faceted topic. However, one significant contributor to the alarming increase of opioid-related overdoses is illegally produced fentanyl and fentanyl analogues, which are highly toxic and mixed into other illegal drugs--often unknowingly to would-be purchasers. (Government of Canada, "Government of Canada Actions on Opioids: 2016 and 2017".)

In 2016, in an effort to better combat the opioid crisis, the Government of Canada replaced the National Anti-Drug Strategy. Its approach to problematic opioid use relied heavily on enforcement measures. The new Canadian Drugs and Substances Strategy, which takes an evidence-based public health approach to addiction and problematic substance use, replaced it. This new government strategy is grounded in cooperation between stakeholders and is premised on four pillars: prevention, treatment, harm reduction, and enforcement.

Parliament's legal response to the opioid crisis, keeping these pillars in mind, is found in two key pieces of legislative action:

  1. Bill C-37, which amended the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA); and

  2. the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act.

Bill C-37

One of the most notable amendments to the CDSA through Bill C-37 was to allow for, and streamline, the establishment of supervised consumption sites (section 56.1 (1) of the CDSA). Supervised consumption sites are a part of the government's Canadian Drugs and Substances Strategy to provide an entry point to treatment and social services for users looking to address substance usage. These locations provide a safe, sterile environment to consume these substances and emergency care in the event of an overdose. They also provide personnel who are able to educate users on the harms of drug use and safer...

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