British Columbia

Doctors — not police — should be responsible for fentanyl enforcement, SFU prof says

A Simon Fraser University criminology professor says society needs to stop looking at fentanyl as a criminal problem and start treating it as a health issue.

Criminologist recommends crackdown on dealers and more treatment for addiction

Simon Fraser University criminologist Neil Boyd says the laws criminalizing many drugs originate from many decades ago and were created without much scientific evidence. (CBC)

A Simon Fraser University criminology professor says society needs to stop looking at fentanyl as a criminal problem and start treating it as a health issue.

Neil Boyd told CBC's The Early Edition that the drug should be openly regulated through the healthcare system where doctors can prescribe and supervise drug use.

"A regulated market separate from law enforcement is a better approach," he said. "There are doctors willing to engage in that kind of supervision."

Part of the problem surrounding the fentanyl epidemic, he said, is the moral stigma created from criminalization.

People are less willing to seek help for fear of facing charges.

One of the problems, Boyd says, is that drug laws were created arbitrarily decades ago without much scientific evidence.

"If we were going to start to legislate in relation to public health today, we'd make very different choices around the drugs of concern. Alcohol would be the drug of greatest concern."

He says society needs to move away from thinking of drugs as a moral weakness and start thinking of them as a public health issue.

"People eat too much. People drink too much. People fail to exercise. These are all risks to health as well, but they don't attract the moral stigma of opiate use."

Law enforcement changing its focus

In some ways, law enforcement has slowly been shifting its stance

When it comes to possession, for example, B.C. RCMP Chief Supt. Brian Cantera admits police cannot simply "arrest [their] way out of this problem".

Instead, law enforcement is taking an increasingly tough stance when it comes to the drug's dealers

Boyd agrees fentanyl dealers should be severely punished.

"A person, who we would presume knowingly, is marketing a drug that could kill hundreds of people and may have killed five, 10 people ... we normally think of that as something close to a homicide."

He said dealers need to be taken out of the equation completely.

"We need to take fentanyl out of the hands of organized crime, out of the hands of these dealers and put it in the hands of the medical profession where it properly belongs."

B.C. has been under a state of public health emergency since April because of the number of drug overdose deaths.

With files from The Early Edition

To hear the interview, click on the link labelled SFU Professor Neil Boyd on the law enforcement of illegal drugs


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