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Commons committee urges feds to consider decriminalizing simple drug possession

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OTTAWA — The House of Commons health committee is urging the federal government to look at Portugal’s decriminalization of simple possession of illicit drugs and examine how the idea could be “positively applied in Canada.”

The committee made the recommendation, among others, in report produced after committee members travelled across Canada to witness the impacts of methamphetamine use and its rapid increase in some communities. 

Many witnesses who appeared before the committee called for the federal government to work with provinces, territories, municipalities, Indigenous communities and law-enforcement agencies to decriminalize simple possession of small quantities of illicit substances, the report says.

It also says the committee heard during its informal meetings across the country that even some health-care providers have negative attitudes toward people with substance-use problems.

The report details testimony from health experts who told the committee that decriminalizing simple possession is necessary because problematic substance use and addiction is a health problem for users and criminalization prevents them from seeking help.

“Witnesses recommended that the federal government examine the implementation of the Portuguese model of decriminalization of the possession of illicit substances, which included a scaling-up of treatment programs and the creation of diversion programs for offenders who commit crimes related to their substance-use disorders,” the report says.

The federal Liberals have faced mounting pressure from health advocates and even members of their own caucus to pursue decriminalization of simple possession.

Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith said he is planning to introduce a private member’s bill built on the idea that Canada should treat drug use as a health issue and not as a crime. It will include removing penalties for simple possession of any drug from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

The bill is vanishingly unlikely to get anywhere before the fall election, but Erskine-Smith said he will look to re-introduce the bill in a new Parliament should he be re-elected. He said other jurisdictions have found that removing criminal sanctions for drug possession means more people seek treatment.

“I think it is incumbent on me and like-minded members of Parliament to continue to raise the issue and continue to draw attention to the evidence if it means saving lives,” he said.

The Commons health committee is also recommending a public-awareness campaign to provide “credible and reliable information” about the potential harms of methamphetamine use and the risks posed by the toxicity of the illegal supply.

Its report details how the rise of meth across the country highlights the complexity of addressing problematic substance use and addiction in Canada, with witnesses explaining its use is caused by a set of “interwoven factors” including harmful childhood experiences, poor mental health, poverty and homelessness.

The committee heard that methamphetamine can be particularly destructive for some people because it’s highly addictive and can bring on psychosis, the report said, and many people who use the drug don’t know the havoc it can cause.

The Conservatives on the health committee issued a dissenting report saying that several other things need to be done before decriminalization, pointing out a number of differences between Canada and Portugal.

There are 170 recovery facilities for 11 million people in Portugal. The country offers mental-health supports and mandatory education in schools and for the public regarding the harms of drugs, the Conservatives say, and it is unrealistic to assume Canada could achieve the same results without implementing several of those mandatory elements.

“Canada does not have the recovery capacity available currently,” the dissenting report said. “We also do not have enough available and affordable mental-health supports, mandatory education regarding harms, or a correctional system that could mimic Portugal’s.”

In the summer of 2017, Jane Philpott and Jody Wilson-Raybould — then the Liberal ministers of health and justice —travelled to Portugal to learn more about the country’s approach to drugs.

Portugal can teach Canada a “great deal” about how taking a public-health approach to drug policy helps the justice system work better, Wilson-Raybould said in a statement at the time.

So far, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has refused to pursue decriminalization.

Last April, at a convention in Halifax, the Liberal rank and file passed a non-binding resolution on decriminalizing simple possession and consumption of all illicit drugs; Trudeau immediately shot the idea down.

“On that particular issue, as I’ve said, it’s not part of our plans,” he said.

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Kristy Kirkup, The Canadian Press

Storytelling is in our DNA. We provide credible, compelling multimedia storytelling and services in English and French to help captivate your digital, broadcast and print audiences. As Canada’s national news agency for 100 years, we give Canadians an unbiased news source, driven by truth, accuracy and timeliness.

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COVID-19

“Focused Protection” instead of COVID Restrictions. Three prominent epidemiologists calling for a new global response to COVID-19

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When it comes to COVID-19, one way or another countries around the world are eventually going to achieve herd immunity.  The way most countries are approaching the situation currently will stretch out the amount of time it’s going to take.  There are good reasons for that.  But now that the virus has been with us for close to a year we’ve learned not everyone is at the same risk of a serious outcome.  Some leading epidemiologists think it’s time to take another look at the global response to COVID.  As businesses close, millions look for work, seniors long for a hug from a loved one, and young people dream of getting back to their favourite sport, a new approach is being recommended.

The first few days of October, a group of epidemiologists headed by Harvard University’s Dr. Martin Kulldorff, Oxford University’s Dr. Sunetra Gupta, and Stanford University’s Dr. Jay Bhattacharya met to discuss the way governments around the world are reacting to the COVID-19 crisis.  As a result of their discussions they posted The Great Barrington Declaration, a call for “Focused Protection”.  The declaration outlines a new strategy they hope governments around the world will soon adopt.  Coming out of their meeting the three co-signers of the declaration were interviewed by Freddie Sayers of UnHerd.  Here’s the fascinating discussion of why these leading thinkers are calling for a different global response to the pandemic.

On October 4, 2020, this declaration was authored and signed in Great Barrington, United States, by:

Dr. Martin Kulldorff, professor of medicine at Harvard University, a biostatistician, and epidemiologist with expertise in detecting and monitoring of infectious disease outbreaks and vaccine safety evaluations.

Dr. Sunetra Gupta, professor at Oxford University, an epidemiologist with expertise in immunology, vaccine development, and mathematical modeling of infectious diseases.

Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, professor at Stanford University Medical School, a physician, epidemiologist, health economist, and public health policy expert focusing on infectious diseases and vulnerable populations.

“This is the saner approach, the more scientific approach,” the authors tell Freddie Sayers

The Great Barrington Declaration

As infectious disease epidemiologists and public health scientists we have grave concerns about the damaging physical, and mental health impacts of the prevailing COVID-19 policies and recommend an approach we call Focused Protection.

Coming from both the left and right, and around the world, we have devoted our careers to protecting people. Current lockdown policies are producing devastating effects on short and long-term public health. The results (to name a few) include lower childhood vaccination rates, worsening cardiovascular disease outcomes, fewer cancer screenings and deteriorating mental health – leading to greater excess mortality in years to come, with the working class and younger members of society carrying the heaviest burden. Keeping students out of school is a grave injustice. 

Keeping these measures in place until a vaccine is available will cause irreparable damage, with the underprivileged disproportionately harmed.

Fortunately, our understanding of the virus is growing. We know that vulnerability to death from COVID-19 is more than a thousand-fold higher in the old and infirm than the young. Indeed, for children, COVID-19 is less dangerous than many other harms, including influenza. 

As immunity builds in the population, the risk of infection to all – including the vulnerable – falls. We know that all populations will eventually reach herd immunity – i.e.  the point at which the rate of new infections is stable – and that this can be assisted by (but is not dependent upon) a vaccine. Our goal should therefore be to minimize mortality and social harm until we reach herd immunity. 

The most compassionate approach that balances the risks and benefits of reaching herd immunity, is to allow those who are at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection, while better protecting those who are at highest risk. We call this Focused Protection. 

Adopting measures to protect the vulnerable should be the central aim of public health responses to COVID-19. By way of example, nursing homes should use staff with acquired immunity and perform frequent PCR testing of other staff and all visitors. Staff rotation should be minimized. Retired people living at home should have groceries and other essentials delivered to their home. When possible, they should meet family members outside rather than inside. A comprehensive and detailed list of measures, including approaches to multi-generational households, can be implemented, and is well within the scope and capability of public health professionals. 

Those who are not vulnerable should immediately be allowed to resume life as normal. Simple hygiene measures, such as hand washing and staying home when sick should be practiced by everyone to reduce the herd immunity threshold. Schools and universities should be open for in-person teaching. Extracurricular activities, such as sports, should be resumed. Young low-risk adults should work normally, rather than from home. Restaurants and other businesses should open. Arts, music, sport and other cultural activities should resume. People who are more at risk may participate if they wish, while society as a whole enjoys the protection conferred upon the vulnerable by those who have built up herd immunity.

Great Barrington, Massachusetts, 4th October 2020

To sign the declaration, follow this link
www.GBdeclaration.org

As of Wednesday, October 7 (only 3 days into this campaign) this declaration has been signed by over 3,500 Medical & Public Health Scientists, over 5,600 Medical Practitioners, and by over 84,000 members of the general public. 

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COVID-19

ZDoggMD: Stop Living in Fear of COVID

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From ZDoggMD

Our pandemic response has generated untold fear and untold harm to our most vulnerable communities. Here’s a possible way out.

Dr. Monica Gandhi is a UCSF professor of Medicine in the division of HIV, infectious diseases, and global medicine. Her current research involves masks and their effects on COVID disease severity.

Here’s our prior interview on her mask hypothesis.

In this interview we talk about the effects masks and mask mandates may have (distinguishing correlation from causation), masks and herd immunity, how our current climate of fear has punished poor people, the “strata of fear” that your social group resides in, and much more.

The last 2 1/2 minutes of this interview reframe the entire message so poignantly…please watch and share with those both in, and out, of your “strata of fear”…

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october, 2020

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