My trip to Portugal to investigate its public policy approach to problematic substance use would not have been possible without the assistance of Élise Racicot, Ambassador of Canada to Portugal, Political Counsellor Jeffrey Heaton and Embassy staff. They have provided help organizing and coordinating my schedule for which I am immensely grateful. Their insight into Portuguese and connections with key players has been invaluable. I have learned much from direct contact with Portuguese policy makers, health professionals and clients of programs and services and very much look forward to continuing the fight for a health-based approach to substance use in Canada.
Here’s a couple of screen shots of Wednesday's story in The Hill Times about my visit to Portugal where my colleague Liberal MP Brendan Hanley and I met with officials and frontline workers behind the Portuguese policy of patient-centred integrated care for users of illicit drugs. In Canada, our governments continue to use piecemeal half-measures to address the toxic drug emergency and the result has been tragic for thousands of families in every province and territory. The Hill Times was interested in knowing more about “mandated" or “forced” treatment which is advocated by many on the political right in our country. As I told the reporter, in Portugal “there is absolutely no appetitive to return to the criminal model…and…they made it clear that the evidence says forced treatment does no work.” No question that we need a "made-in-Canada" model but we also need to learn from Portugal because what we’re doing clearly is not working. Further, we need to invest. The federal government has spent less than one per cent of what it spent on COVID-19 support programs to address the toxic drug public health emergency which is responsible for over 35,000 deaths since 2016.