In 2001, the Auditor General of Canada concluded that about 95 per cent of the federal government’s expenditures that address illicit drugs (then about $500 million each year) were used for supply reduction (enforcement or interdiction) – in essence, law enforcement and the criminal justice system.  The percentage has varied since then, but the criminal law remains the main tool for dealing with drugs federally.

In other words, at both the federal and provincial levels, funds that could be used to address the underlying causes of problematic drug use are being used instead for policing, the courts and incarceration.

The criminal justice system is simply not designed to address the social and other determinants of problematic use—among them trauma, sexual and physical abuse, mental illness, genetic predisposition, poverty, homelessness, dislocation and stress.

To make matters worse, the shortage of treatment facilities means that some dependent users who want treatment but cannot access it will resort to crime to support their drug use, and will end up in court as a result.

In the final analysis, the criminal justice system addresses addiction issues “after the fact”—after the addiction has resulted in criminal activity that has harmed those who use drugs or others in their communities.

Recent governments have supported “drug treatment courts,” where judges divert some offenders to treatment, but would it not be smarter to bolster resources directed at earlier voluntary treatment with the goal of preventing users from ending up in the criminal justice system in the first place?

Eugene Oscapella

Image credit: themalni / 123RF Stock Photo