Treat drug addiction as health, not criminal issue, O’Toole says in plan to tackle opioid crisis

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole offered on Sunday a “compassionate” plan to tackle the opioid crisis, treating it as a national emergency to help those battling drug addiction.

During a campaign stop at an addictions rehabilitation centre in New Westminster, B.C., O’Toole said 17 Canadians’ deaths each day are related to opioids  – and that the health crisis has deepened during the pandemic.

“As prime minister, I will treat the opioid epidemic as the health crisis that it is,” he said.

“That means that our focus should be on helping people with addictions get the help they need to recover.”

The promises, part of  the party’s election platform book, include $325 million over three years to create 1,000 new treatment beds and build 50 recovery centres in communities across the country. 

The plan also commits to enhancing culturally appropriate treatment and prevention services in high-needs First Nations communities, and to provide $1 billion over five years in additional funding for Indigenous mental health and drug treatment programs.

Asked by reporters whether he supports the decriminalization of drugs, O’Toole said he advocates judicial discretion for treatment options rather than criminal sanctions. 

“I don’t think someone with an addiction should be punished. I think they should be helped,” he said.

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