Thanks to Susie Quinn and the Alberni Valley News for covering my recent visit to Portugal to investigate its approach to preventing and treating problematic substance use. As Susie reports, we are losing so many people in our communities to the toxic drug emergency and our federal government is moving "at a snail’s pace." More than 36,000 Canadians have died since 2016 and, as I told her ““the government should be learning from others who’ve seemed to handle substance use, and prevention better than Canada has.” Tragically, this has not been our government’s approach which is why I went to see for myself.
Portugal was once one of Europe’s worst countries for substance use but “they have seen a sharp decline in overdoses and substance use because they had the political will to make necessary investments and policy changes.” I met with Dr. Joao Goulao, considered to be the architect of Portugal’s national drug response program and saw its policies working first hand. In a nutshell, I learned that a patient-focused integrated approach has been responsible for the decline. Harm reduction support is provided to users of illicit substances and access to recovery and treatment programs is available without delay or cost. Prevention is a critical component of this integrated approach and--contrary to disinformation pushed out by some politicians--forced or mandatory treatment is not practiced. I’m looking forward to getting back to the House of Commons in the fall when I can share lessons learned.