Drug checking has become more common since the appearance of stronger opioids on the streets. (Vancouver Coastal Health photo)

Drug checking has become more common since the appearance of stronger opioids on the streets. (Vancouver Coastal Health photo)

LETTER: Maple Ridge resident concerned decriminalization amount ignores fentanyl’s potency

B.C. follows Portugal’s lead but doesn’t have the supports in place, letter writer noted

Dear Editor,

I’ve been following, with some significant and specific concern, the discussion of the seemingly imminent decriminalization of all drugs in British Columbia.

The premise of, and rationale for, decriminalization​ does have some real merit and legitimacy. But there are several problems with the proposal for decriminalization in B.C.

1. The proposal, at least as reported, is to decriminalize up to 2.5 grams of all the so called ‘illicit’ drugs, including the opiods, which include the synthetics fentanyl and carfentanil. The medical literature mostly cites 2mg of pure fentanyl as a lethal dose, so 2.5g is equivalent to 1,250 lethal doses. Carfentanil is 1,000 times stronger than fentanyl.

Even some strong decriminalization advocates have stated their fear that the concentration (and therefore lethality) of fentanyl in the street supply will go up. The B.C. Coroner’s report stated that we had 45 overdose deaths in Maple Ridge in 2021 and 15 for the first four months of 2022, most involving fentanyl. Is it not highly likely that decriminalizing 2.5g of fentanyl will result in an even higher mortality rate?

2. The most often cited successful model for decriminalization is Portugal, where decriminalization for personal use came into effect in in 2001, and there has been some great success there. However, Portugal had several other essential components that went with decriminalization that we do not have here.

In Portugal they have a continuum of treatment and supports readily available. When someone is ready, they can get into detox, then treatment, then ongoing support, as necessary and appropriate. As anyone with addictions can attest, this is not currently, nor has it ever been, the case in B.C.

In Portugal drugs have been decriminalized, but other crimes that may occur to obtain drugs have not. For example, if someone were to appear before the courts on Portugal for theft, as I understand it, they can be compelled to treatment to avoid incarceration. Not saying that system is right or wrong, but it does seem to get a lot of people into treatment.

In Portugal the amount deemed for personal use is a 10-day supply. 2.5g of pure fentanyl, once ‘cut’ or diluted for use, would be far beyond that.

In Portugal, the manufacture, sale and distribution of illicit drugs is criminal, and is appropriately, harshly, punished.

The goals of reducing stigma and treating addictions as an illness are laudable, and I fully support them, but a blanket decriminalization of 2.5g of any and all drugs lacks a comprehensive and nuanced grasp of the reality in B.C.

Bob Masse, Maple Ridge

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• READ MORE: Minister suggests decriminalization amount too low

• READ MORE: Stakeholders on various sides of the debate weigh in on decriminalization

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