Calls to legalize drugs to help prevent fatal overdoses linked to opioids

Groups working with drug users and prevention programs are calling on the federal government to take measures quickly in order to ward off an opioid crisis in Montreal, including legalizing drugs.

The widespread use of prescription opioids such as fentanyl is being blamed on several overdose-related deaths among drug addicts. Many of them are turning to the black market to feed their habit. Fatal overdoses linked to fentanyl in British Columbia and Alberta increased from 42 in 2012 to 418 in 2015.

Groups such as GIAP, peer helpers trained as social workers, say they are seeing more of these types of deaths in Montreal.

"In the field, it's also something you see quite frequently, you hear someone, "Where are they. Oh, they died. OD". It's something that comes up more and more, people that are doing other sorts of drugs, you think it's mostly just those that shoot with heroin but now you start finding a bunch of stuff in fentanyl and cocaine so it's more spread out," said GIAP worker Jess Albayrak during a news conference held outside the Complexe Guy-Favreau.

The group Association Québécoise pour la promotion de la santé des personnes utilisatrices de drogues (AQPSUD) said legalizing drugs is a solution the government should seriously consider to help ward off a fentanyl crisis while they still can.

"We cannot stay in the prohibition system anymore. There have been so many deaths. They're actually letting the organized crime reap all the profits, putting people at risk and distributing to whoever. They are not asking you for an i.d. card. You can be 13-years-old, they are going to sell it to you," said spokesman Jean-François Mary.

The groups also want easier access to treatment for opioid dependance as well as access to the drug Naloxone which can be used as an antidote to fentanyl.