Since 2016, overdoses have killed over 17,000 people in Canada.1 For the first time in over four decades, our life expectancy at birth has stopped rising because of the ongoing overdose crisis.2 On top of that, the COVID-19 pandemic and the attendant public health response has shined a damning light on the inadequacies of our current drug laws and policies that are meant to support marginalized communities. Physical distancing requirements and closed borders have been accompanied by an increase in fatal overdoses across Canada. This unprecedented moment in history has laid bare our broken system. In large part, it is due to the stigma and discrimination fuelled by our views of substance use and people who use drugs, which have paved the way for an illegal and toxic drug market to take root in our communities.

To end the loss of life, we must envision a new reality. Getting to Tomorrow: Ending the Overdose Crisis aims to contribute to that change. Working with our community partners, the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition—a national network of organizations and people working toward evidence-based drug policies based on public health, human rights, and social inclusion—is organizing and leading a series of digital and in-person workshop dialogues in communities across Canada to foster conversation and collaboration among community members, stakeholders, and the government.

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In the realm of drug policy, this is a large and comprehensive undertaking. It will include workshops and training sessions for government and community leaders; meetings with people who use drugs—whose reality of criminalization will form part of a fact-finding exercise that will be summarized in a final report; and a content-rich online resource hub for all Canadians to engage on drug policy issues. 

The Goal

The goal is to bring together leaders from diverse sectors of society (business, government, healthcare, law enforcement) and build multi-sectoral alliances within communities that are empowered and driven to address the overdose crisis together—to catalyze a sense of collaborative possibility through a shared understanding and purpose.

More specifically, Getting to Tomorrow: Ending the Overdose Crisis will accomplish the following:

  • Increase understanding of the importance of harm reduction services as a key component of a public health approach to drugs. The project will build networks of diverse organizations and individuals who will be able to share resources, insight, and experience to address a common problem more effectively and quickly.
  • Address misinformation and stigma among the public and decision makers. The events will help to demystify the cycle of substance use and reveal its interconnectedness with factors such as poverty, homelessness, racism, and colonialism. They will focus on how to best build compassionate and evidence-based drug policies that will help politicians and the public recognize when laws and policies are rooted in stigma.
  • Empower current and future leaders to create and support drug policies that promote health rather than harm. Providing decision makers with accurate information, increasing their knowledge around substance use, and deepening their connections with stakeholders will contribute to better decision making. Research is also often not accessible to those in power, and there is a large knowledge gap from province to province or across the urban-rural divide in the drug policy field. Decisions are often made in silos that are far removed from the participation of the people affected by the policies who can offer valuable lived experiences to the process. Getting to Tomorrow: Ending the Overdose Crisis will work to remedy these knowlege gaps.
  • Increase public awareness of a comprehensive public health and human rights approach to drugs. An approach based on the principles of social justice, attention to human rights and equity, evidence-informed policy and practice, and the addressing of the underlying determinants of health will benefit all members within communities. The project will increase the public’s understanding of how drug policies are formed, the impact they have, and alternative approaches to what is currently in place.

About Canadian Drug Policy Coalition

The Canadian Drug Policy Coalition (CDPC) is a coalition of 50 organizations and 4,000 individuals working to support the development of progressive drug policy grounded in science, guided by public health principles, and respectful of human rights. The CDPC operates as a project within Simon Fraser University under the Centre for Applied Research in Mental Health and Addiction. The CDPC seeks to include people who use drugs and those harmed by the war on drugs in moving toward a healthier Canadian society free of stigma and social exclusion.

Dialogue is one of the bedrocks of social change. Bringing people together, sharing stories and learning from one another are what make communities stronger. A companion project to Getting to Tomorrow: Ending the Overdose Crisis is Stimulus Connect, an innovative webinar series that serves as another platforms for communities to connect around issues related to drug policy and practice. Uplifting the voices of those most affected, Stimulus Connect hosts conversations about safe supply and harm reduction to caregivers and policing, and much more.

  1. https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2019/06/13/opioid-related-death-count-up-to-more-than-11500-in-canada-according-to-government-data.html
  2. https://globalnews.ca/news/5333946/life-expectancy-stall-opioid-crisis/

Getting to Tomorrow: Ending the Overdose Crisis is supported by Health Canada. The views expressed do not necessarily represent the views of Health Canada.