How the Canadian government is dealing with drugs

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Let’s talk about drugs. Opioids are causing a dangerous number of overdose deaths in Canada and marijuana was just legalized across the country. 

What are opioids?

Opioids are drugs that relieve pain by triggering receptors in the brain and spine.

If you’ve ever had any type of surgery (ie: had your wisdom teeth taken out), you’ve probably used them. Legal prescription opioids include oxycodone, hydrocodone, and codeine. They treat everything from severe pain to coughs and are highly addictive.


The Canadian government says it’s experiencing a national opioid crisis. “Canadians are the world’s second-largest per capita consumer of prescription opioids after Americans.” And that number is rising.

Despite efforts to distance themselves from the crisis, pharmaceutical companies have played a major role in promoting opioid usage. The maker of OxyContin was fined $634.5 million USD for promoting the drug to doctors and med students as less addictive than other pain medications. As a result of the misleading marketing, prescription numbers grew, and so did the number of addictions and overdose deaths.

Fentanyl is an opioid that’s been making headlines in Canada. It was originally developed to be used as an anesthetic during surgery but is now commonly prescribed as a pain medication. Fentanyl is 100x stronger than heroin, and also cheaper. It’s hard to get off the streets because it’s usually linked to a legit prescription.

In Canada, hospital visits for opioid poisoning grew by 42% from 2007/08 to 2014/15, and a recent report indicated that there were at least 2,458 opioid-related deaths in 2016. But this snapshot is barely the whole picture. These figures do not include data from Quebec, and stats from many provinces are not up to date.


Progress is being made but it is slow. Before April of this year (2017), there wasn’t even a Canada-wide definition of what counted as an opioid-related death.

In response to the crisis, the government is employing a four-pronged approach:

1. Prevention: educate the public and reduce opioid prescriptions.

2. Treatment: treat opioid addicts for their pain and addiction.

3. Harm reduction: review safe injection sites and increase access to naloxone, a medication that blocks the effects of opioids and can save someone who is overdosing.

4. Enforcement: use laws and regulations to manage the illegal distribution of drugs.

What is Marijuana?

Cannabis, Mary Jane, reefer, pot, ganja, grass, weed, etc. Whatever you call it, you’re probably pretty familiar with marijuana. About 53% of people aged 18 to 44 have tried it.

Unlike opioids, which are usually highly processed or synthetic, marijuana is a plant. There is some THC (the active compound that makes you high) in the leaves and stems, but most of it is concentrated in the buds, which are clipped, dried, and then usually smoked.

While opioids have been legally prescribed for many years, marijuana was just legalized in Canada in 2018. This is despite the fact that seven Canadians, per day, die of opioid abuse.


Advocates: argue that marijuana is no more dangerous (and likely far less dangerous) than prescription opioids and alcohol. Supporters of medicinal marijuana argue that it has significant value as a treatment for a range of issues including autism, seizures, anxiety, PTSD, and chronic pain (no pun intended).

Opponents: suggest that we don’t know the full long-term effects of the drug and that marijuana can be physically and psychologically harmful. Critics point out that marijuana use by young people can cause serious issues and argue that legalization just increases access.

While campaigning to be Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau promised the legalization of marijuana. The Liberal Party’s website states that they “will legalize, regulate, and restrict access to marijuana.” They argue that the current system does not prevent kids from accessing the drug, that sales of it are lining the pockets of criminals, and that prosecuting people for personal marijuana use is expensive and clogs the courts. In October 2018, the Liberals fulfilled their promise.

DUIs and other issues

There are also some serious concerns about DUIs now that marijuana is legalized. According to a study by Columbia University, “marijuana use may double the risk of accidents for drivers.”

Right now, the government is still debating how to test driving limits. Different people can react differently to the same levels of THC, so determining a cut-off range for safe driving is difficult. Even if there is a standard limit, there is still no reliable roadside test available (yet) to determine if a person is high or how much THC is in their system.

The government’s new approach to marijuana and reaction to the opioid crisis show that drugs are now being treated like public health issues rather than criminal issues. It’s a controversial approach but one that has already been implemented in Portugal. The European country decriminalized all drugs in 2001. That’s right. ALL DRUGS. The result: Portugal now has an average of three overdose deaths per 1 million people compared to the E.U. average of 17.3. Fewer people use drugs overall, the number of heroin users has been cut in half, and the number of new HIV infections has been reduced from over 1,000 people per year to 56.

Decriminalization is different from legalization. Drugs are still illegal, but if someone is caught with an illegal substance, it means a fine and referral to a treatment program rather than jail time and a criminal record.

– Contributed by Richard Beattie a Content Marketing Strategist at Creative Campbellville and a freelance copywriter with a passion for politics. He holds aBA(H) in Political Studies from Queen’s University and is always eager to take on new projects. You can find him on LinkedIn or visit his website at

Jacqueline Leung