Drug misuse in Canada has a long and complex history. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, opium and cocaine were widely available and used for both medicinal and recreational purposes. Opium, in particular, was commonly used as a pain reliever and was available in a variety of forms, including pills, tinctures, and smoking mixtures. Cocaine, on the other hand, was often used as a stimulant and was marketed as a cure for a variety of ailments, including fatigue, headaches, and depression.
However, as the negative effects of these drugs became more apparent, the government began to enact stricter drug control laws. The Opium and Narcotic Drug Act of 1908 prohibited the import, manufacture, and sale of opium for anything other than medicinal purposes. Similarly, the Narcotic Control Act of 1911 made it illegal to possess, produce, or sell opium, cocaine, and other drugs without a license.
In the 1920s and 1930s, Canada continued to strengthen its drug control laws. The Opium and Narcotic Drug Act was amended in 1920 to prohibit the import and export of opium, and in 1923, the Narcotic Control Act was amended to include harsher penalties for drug offenses. By the mid-20th century, the use of recreational drugs had become stigmatized and criminalized.
However, in the 1960s and 1970s, there was a resurgence of drug use, particularly among youth. This was partly due to the counterculture movement of the time, which rejected traditional social norms and encouraged experimentation with drugs. The government responded by increasing law enforcement efforts to combat drug trafficking, but this approach did not address the underlying social and economic factors that contribute to drug addiction. As a result, rates of drug use and overdose continued to rise.
In recent years, there has been a shift towards a more harm reduction-based approach to addressing drug misuse. This approach recognizes that addiction is a complex issue that cannot be solved through criminalization alone, but rather it requires a multifaceted approach that addresses the social and economic determinants of addiction. This includes expanding access to harm reduction services, such as needle exchange programs and opioid substitution therapy, as well as increasing funding for research, prevention, and treatment of addiction.
- Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction. (2019). A brief history of substance use in Canada. Retrieved from https://www.ccsa.ca/sites/default/files/2019-09/CCSA-Brief-History-Substance-Use-Canada-2019-en.pdf
- Canadian Government. (1908). Opium and Narcotic Drug Act. Retrieved from https://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/O-9/page-1.html
- Canadian Government. (1911). Narcotic Control Act. Retrieved from https://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/N-1/page-1.html