From April 19–20, the United Nations will be holding a General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) to discuss global drug policy for the first time since 1998. U of T students from the Canadian chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (CSSDP) hope to be in attendance.
Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy (CSSDP)
The Canadian chapter of the CSSDP focuses on harm reduction and a scientific approach to drug policy, say Daniel Grieg, a leader within the organization, and Kyle Lumsden, a dedicated member.
In an email exchange with The Varsity, Greig emphasized that restrictions of scientific inquiry into psychedelics hinder medicinal development.
“Drugs are inappropriately classified in present policy. For example, psychedelics are currently being explored… for their therapeutic properties and are also contributing to research in how we think about consciousness and the brain. If it does turn out that psychedelics are useful and safe medicines, then we will be effectively withholding treatment from people suffering from mental illness,” he said.
Greig emphasized the importance of lifting barriers to research. “Ultimately, we need to not only minimize the negative impacts of drug policy, we also need to maximize the possible benefits. Harms are things such as the disproportionate criminalization of the poor and people of colour, as well as the unnecessary deaths caused by lack of available knowledge. The benefits are such things as useful research tools, the development of more effective mental health treatments and tax revenue.”
Lumsden outlined the focus of his interest in drug policy reform: “The widespread harm of alcohol and violence associated with black markets for illegal drugs pose the greatest threat to society and can be improved with evidence based public policy. Multiple studies show that when police have a successful takedown of a drug network, there is a spike in violence afterwards due to a vacuum of power; other criminal groups compete for their share of the market indefinitely.”
Nazlee Maghsoudi is the strategic advisor for the CSSDP, the knowledge translation manager for the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy (ICSDP), and a U of T graduate. She said that the reality is that “prohibition has endangered young people” despite the war on drugs rhetoric, which claims to be aimed at “keeping children safe.”
Maghsoudi believes that UNGASS is “drug policy’s moment in the sun, in terms of approach.” According to Maghsoudi, the UN’s drug policy approach has grown outside of the UN because “the global drug policy regime is divorced from human rights” even though non-progressive countries execute their inhabitants for possession or consumption.
She also believes that there are many barriers to reaching the consensus needed for the construction of an international framework through the UN.
Canada’s opioid problem
According to an article in the Globe and Mail article, “Canada is the world’s second-largest per capita consumer of opioids and the fallout is being felt across the country. The article indicates that between 2009 to 2014, at least 655 Canadians died as a result of fentanyl, a powerful opioid that is available by prescription and is also manufactured in clandestine labs and sold on the street.”
Tara Gomes, a scientist working for the Ontario Drug Policy Research Network (ODPRN) describes pain as “difficult to manage” and that there “isn’t a lot of training for it in medical school.”
It’s not that opioids should not be used, but once someone shows addictive tendencies doctors should be able to refer patients to a case-dependent addiction treatment. Tara Gomes emphasized “there is a place for these drugs in clinical practice,” Gomes said.
The Triplicate Prescription Program (TPP) and Prescription Review Program (PRP) were created in part to address the opioid prescription problem facing Canada.
Wende Wood, a pharmacist and a graduate from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, recently moved to Alberta, where the TPP is currently in effect. According to the College of Physicians and Surgeons’ website, “TPP collects prescribing and dispensing data for listed drugs. When the data meet certain criteria, physicians and others involved in the care of the patient are alerted, provided with information and directed to resources to support them in providing safe care.”
Saskatchewan has a PRP that performs a similar function.
Wood said that these prescription monitoring programs have not caught on because providing three copies of the same prescription is tedious for doctors to fill out.
Marijuana and Toronto’s dispensaries
Under the current framework, marijuana is legal as a prescribed medication. To obtain this prescription, one must register for a mail order from a licensed producer, or obtain a doctor’s prescription for a health-related issue, whioch must be taken to a local dispensary.
The dispensaries are not authorized by Health Canada.