US Drug Policy: Lessons for Canada

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Daniel Jonathan Heffner


Addiction Medicine, Health Policy, Medicine and the Law, Psychiatry, Public Health, Forensic Medicine, Bill-C10, Substance dependence, Decriminalization


With the passing of Bill C-10 by the federal government, Canada is getting tough on those who use illicit drugs. This policy largely follows the example of the United States when Richard Nixon declared a war on drugs in the 1970s and Ronald Reagan enforced similar mandatory minimum sentencing with the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986. As a result, the number of prisoners in the US has increased by 600% over the past 40 years giving the US the highest incarceration rate on earth. All of this runs counter to the scientific evidence of addiction being a medical condition which should be managed as a public health problem, rather than almost exclusively through the criminal justice system. The introduction of Bill C-10 comes at a time when the number of inmates in Canada’s provincial and federal prisons is already increasing, reaching an all time high in federal penitentiaries. Enforcement and incarceration of those who use illegal substances is a costly intervention that fails to curtail the supply or use of drugs in any way. Instead, Canada must look to countries, such as Portugal that have implemented successful drug policies. Physicians have a responsibility to advocate for the health of all Canadians, including those suffering from substance abuse. Therefore, it is our duty to come together and demand that the federal government repeal Bill C-10 and replace it with public health interventions that are supported by evidence and promote human rights.