This section offers a deep dive into the issue of legal regulation and safer supply. To visit the main page for a quicker overview, click here. Otherwise, keep scrolling to learn more.
Why Legal Regulation and Safer Supply Are Needed
People use drugs for many reasons. This includes pleasure, healing, spirituality, and cultural practices. The Drug Policy Alliance believes that people have a right to decide what they want to put in their own bodies without punishment.
To use drugs responsibly, people need fact-based education on drugs. Fear-based messaging doesn’t stop people from using drugs. It just keeps them misinformed. To make informed choices, people need to understand the effects and potential harms of drug use. They need to understand what they can do to prevent or respond to an overdose. People should be able to know the composition and potency of drugs. When people know what is in the drug supply, they can make safer choices. They can reduce the likelihood of overdose.
For years, US and world leaders have spent billions of dollars on prohibition and enforcement policies that are ineffective and inequitable. As a result, drugs are more available than ever and we’re dealing with a tragic overdose crisis. If our leaders are serious about saving lives, they must provide alternatives to the unregulated drug supply.
Problems Caused by Drug Prohibition and an Unregulated Illicit Drug Supply
Drug offenses are one of the leading causes of arrest in the U.S. Every year the United States spends approximately $47 billion on drug prohibition. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) budget alone costs U.S. taxpayers about $3 billion dollars a year. These investments have failed to reduce drug use, supply, or demand.
The current overdose crisis now costs the U.S. more than $1 trillion a year. Driving this crisis is an unregulated drug supply, increasingly contaminated with fentanyl. Fentanyl is a potent opioid often found in drugs like heroin and counterfeit “prescription” pills. In response to fentanyl, some are calling for more criminalization.
The U.S. government cannot continue to waste billions of dollars funding punitive drug policies. They are ineffective and inequitable. Instead, they must work with communities to create policies and programs that protect and improve the lives of people who use drugs. U.S. and world leaders cannot criminalize our way out of addiction or the overdose crisis. But we can save lives with an alternative to today’s toxic unregulated drug supply. That’s why our communities need legal regulation and safer supply.
End Drug Prohibition and Start Conversations on All Drug Legal Regulation and Safer Supply
At the Drug Policy Alliance, we believe that we can end the criminalization of people who use drugs. We can save lives by providing an alternative to the unregulated drug supply. We can use drug policy reform to advance social and racial justice.
For example, in Vancouver, community groups like the Drug User Liberation Front (DULF) and the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) are taking matters into their own hands. They get street drugs from online markets. Then they test and distribute them in sealed packaging with clearly labeled contents. No deaths have occurred as a result. Efforts like these to keep people alive are a direct response to the crisis that is the failed policy of drug criminalization.
People who use drugs must participate in the policymaking process. Policies should protect these individuals from unnecessary harm, including death.
Regulation can require the distribution of a regulated drug supply that is free of contaminants. Or require products to be labeled with information regarding dosing and potency. It could limit advertising and impose requirements on packaging and age verification. Or it could require the drug supply to be subject to product standards like other regulated consumer goods.
Legal regulation and safer supply can also replace the failed criminalization approach with investments in addiction services and social supports. This includes access to voluntary treatment, housing, employment, harm reduction, recovery services, and peer support.
Benefits of Legal Regulation and Safer Supply
There is a spectrum of what legal regulation can look like. It could include state-run systems, compassion clubs, or non-profits. Regulatory models can be permissive or restrictive. Regulations can limit production to state-licensed facilities or allow for home production. Regulations can facilitate access for adults through prescription, community-based organizations, or sales. They can limit consumption to dedicated clinics or allow for social use.
Interventions designed to provide people who use drugs an alternative to the unregulated drug supply are emerging across the globe. By learning from existing and emerging models, we are working to ensure future drug policies are driven by best practices. Not racism and fear.
Here in the United States, Drug Policy Alliance is leading efforts to legalize and regulate marijuana ‘the right way.” We’re already seeing results.
Outside of the United States, other countries are piloting models of legal regulation and safer supply. Their efforts are saving lives. Canada, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom offer heroin maintenance programs. These programs provide people dependent on opioids with pharmaceutical-grade heroin or hydromorphone. Decades of research show that these policies work.
As shared above, local Vancouver groups like the Drug User Liberation Front (DULF) and the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) are taking matters into their own hands. They get street drugs from online markets. Then they test and distribute them in sealed packaging with clearly labeled contents. No deaths have occurred as a result.