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New Brunswick

Drug addiction experts in the Maritimes hope to follow B.C.’s decriminalization lead

Maritime addiction experts are hoping British Columbia’s move to decriminalize hard drugs will extend east.

Sharon MacKenzie, of Sydney, NS, says it would have been difficult to imagine British Columbia’s landmark decision at the start of her addiction and mental health career nearly 30 years ago.

“I’m confident that we’re going to go for it,” says MacKenzie, a street nurse at Cape Breton’s Ally Centre. “I think we’re close to embracing that.”

On Tuesday, British Columbia became the first jurisdiction in Canada to allow persons aged 18 and over to legally possess a total of 2.5 grams of illegal drugs, including opioids, cocaine, methamphetamine and MDMA.

Secretary of State for Addiction and Mental Health, Carolyn Bennett, says British Columbia’s liberation is “a monumental shift in drug policy that prioritizes the promotion of trust and supportive relationships in health and social care rather than further criminalization.”

British Columbia’s liberation is part of a three-year pilot project.

Health officials in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island each say they are monitoring British Columbia’s project results.

“I don’t think we need to sit back and watch British Columbia until the end of this pilot or demonstration project,” says MacKenzie. “I think we need to board.”

Julie Dingwell, executive director of Avenue B Harm Reduction in Saint John, NB, agrees and is watching to see if other jurisdictions are following British Columbia’s lead.

“Toronto is applying for a license to do the same. I think that could work across the country,” says Dingwell. “I think BC was pretty brave to go out first. But they usually are when it comes to harm reduction issues.”

North America’s first sanctioned monitored injection facility opened in Vancouver 20 years ago.

ENSEMBLE Services Greater Moncton, New Brunswick’s first overdose prevention location, opened in late 2021.

First responders in the area answer multiple drug-related 911 calls each day, including three overdose calls within two hours at a church in Moncton in late December.

The Saint John Police Force says emergency calls related to drug overdoses are up nearly 40 percent in 2022 compared to 2021.

In April, Saint John Police issued an alert that carfentanil — an opioid drug used to immobilize large animals — may be circulating in the community.

“I think we’re talking more about addiction, and that’s a good thing,” says Dingwell. “As we talk more about addiction and learn more about why it happens to a lot of people, I think we’re going to be more creative as we try to find solutions that keep people alive.”

“The whole idea is to keep people alive, it’s about nothing else.”

With files from CTV Vancouver

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