It is unlikely that Canadians were ever as galvanized by public health data as they have been over the last twelve months. The past year has offered an endless avalanche of trackable statistics about COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, deaths, recoveries, and vaccinations.
Perhaps lost in this information overload is the ongoing and deepening tragedy of Canada’s other epidemic: one that is bearing witness to more death, misery, and suffering as a result of drug addiction – propelled in particular by opioid dependence.
Against the backdrop of record deaths and calls from top cops to decriminalize the possession of hard drugs, a comprehensive new study of 5,003 Canadian adults from the Angus Reid Institute finds two trends defining the opioid epidemic in the public discourse.
Seven-in-ten Canadians say that they feel the problem of opioid addiction has worsened over the past year in Canada. For half (48%), it is a worsening in their own community.
While a majority recognize this broad trend, far fewer Canadians have had the energy or time to focus on the issue. In February 2019, fully two-in-five (42%) said they were following it closely and having discussions about it with their friends and family. Now, as COVID-19 consumes their personal bandwidth, just 16 per cent say the same.
Most, however, are calling for action. A majority in every province canvassed support the decriminalization of all illegal drugs (with the exception of those in Saskatchewan and New Brunswick, where nearly half do). It is a move advocates say would reduce the risk to users by improving the quality of supply whilst encouraging people who use drugs to seek treatment without stigma. Further, two-thirds support increasing access to supervised injection sites. Opponents suggest that liberalizing Canada’s drug laws is not the answer and support a tougher approach. Nearly half (45%) say it would be better to “get tough” on users by increasing arrests and charges for possession of illicit substances