Barrie city councillor calling on federal support for ongoing drug crisis

A Barrie city councillor is calling for increased support from the federal government in tackling the ongoing opioid crisis.

When city council meets on Monday, Ward 6 councillor Natalie Harris plans to bring forth a motion that would urge the council to pressure the federal government to declare the crisis a public health emergency.

"We're calling on the Canadian government to look for safe pharmaceutical alternatives for people who battle with substance use disorders and to potentially decriminalize the personal use of those drugs and to develop a national strategy to combat this toxic drug crisis that is still ravaging our entire country," Harris says.

By declaring the opioid crisis a public health emergency, Harris says that would provide increased funding for harm reduction and treatment. Harris says decriminalization is critical, arguing the focus should be on treatment versus having these individuals cycle through the justice system.

It's an action that she says has proven successful in other countries around the world.

"Twenty years ago, Portugal decriminalized all drugs, and they have the lowest death rate associated with the toxic drug supply in all of Europe," the councillor tells CTV News. "They've definitely proven that putting money into the justice system to potentially help these people who battle substance use disorders just doesn't work. We have this evidence, it's very clear, and Canada needs to step up to the plate and follow Portugal's lead."

Harris argues that the ongoing drug crisis has mainly been overshadowed over the last 19 months by the COVID-19 pandemic.

She brought forth a similar motion when she was first elected, but she says a few years later, she's more optimistic that she'll find support for it from her fellow councillors.

Barrie city council is scheduled to meet Monday at 7 p.m.