British Columbia

'Safe supply' at heart of regulating illicit drug use, say experts

Drug policy experts from around the world spoke at a public forum at Simon Fraser University on whether Canada should legally regulate the use of illicit drugs.

Forum aimed at sparking discussion about regulation of illicit drugs

An unprotected, used needle sits on a metal grate at Carrall and Hastings streets, around the corner from the overdose treatment facility set up at 58 West Hastings St. on Monday. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Canada needs a safe drug supply to reduce the number of overdose deaths, drug policy experts told a public forum Wednesday night in Vancouver that centred on whether Ottawa should legally regulate the use of illicit drugs.

 Zara Snapp, who is the co-founder of Instituto RIA in Mexico, researches solutions to drug policy issues including how to curb the number of opioid overdose-related deaths.

"Now we're falling behind because we are using techniques that we had from 20 years ago and we need to advance," Snapp said.

She said the Canadian government could take control of the illicit drug supply.

"That's where really the conversation around safe supply is so important and how the government could provide the policy interventions that organizations, and local and provincial governments need in order to open up safe supply sites."        

Snapp said medical-grade heroin is already being produced in Europe and suggests Mexico could be a source of opium for legal use in other countries in the future once policies are changed.

Scott Bernstein with the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition said the forum was aimed at sparking a discussion about the regulation of illicit drugs.

"It's really just intended to be just a conversation starter and get us to start thinking about what a post-prohibition model might look like."

Bernstein said Ottawa should deal with other drugs in the same way it's handled cannabis use.

However, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has already said his government will not decriminalize possession of opioids.