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Erin O’Toole says he backs safe injection sites, but recovery is key to opioid crisis

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VANCOUVER — Federal Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole says he will approach the opioid epidemic as an “urgent health crisis” rather than a criminal scourge, and that he would continue to allow safe injection sites.

At an addiction treatment centre in the Vancouver suburb of New Westminster, B.C., O’Toole said he would invest $325 million over the next three years to create 1,000 residential drug treatment beds and build 50 recovery centres across the country.

He also says law enforcement should focus on traffickers, adding he plans to enhance treatment and prevention services in First Nations communities and partner with the provinces to provide free Naloxone kits which reverse overdoses.

Garth Mullins, a representative of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU), says the approach marks an improvement from former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper’s tough-on-crime stance, but that a focus on recovery and abstinence is “misplaced” as it misidentifies the crux of the crisis.

Health Canada is currently working with Vancouver on the city’s request for exemption from criminal provisions on simple possession of small quantities of drugs.

Vancouver has been the epicentre of an opioid crisis that saw British Columbia record 1,176 illicit drug overdose deaths in 2020 — the highest ever in a single year — and more than 7,000 deaths since a public health emergency was declared in April 2016.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 22, 2021.

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