Critics were skeptical when Prime Minister Brian Mulroney announced last September that the government planned to wage war on what he called Canada’s “drug epidemic.” That declaration was made almost simultaneously with President Ronald
Reagan’s announcement of an antidrug campaign in the United States, and some of Mulroney’s opponents charged that he was exaggerating the problem to make political points. The drug crisis quickly disappeared from the government’s visible agenda. But planning continued behind the scenes, and last week the cabinet resurrected the campaign.
Declared Health and Welfare Minister Jake Epp as he announced a $210-million five-year antidrug program:
“There is a drug crisis in Canada.” Then, in a carefully orchestrated campaign, a total of six cabinet ministers announced details of the so-called national drug strategy.
Health administrators and law enforcement officers generally welcomed the program, which will combine generous funding for rehabilitation and public awareness with tougher legislation for controlling the entry and trafficking of illegal drugs.
Still, some opposition MPs accused Epp of grandstanding in advance of attending a United Nations conference on drug abuse in Vienna later this month.
Unveiling the strategy at a Toronto press conference, Epp said that it emerged from discussions with more than 200 government departments, law enforcement agencies, community organizations and special interest groups. He said that they indicated an escalating problem with the use of addictive substances—including alcohol, over-the-counter and prescription drugs, and illegal drugs and solvents. Epp added that drug and alcohol abuse accounts for more than a million days of institutional care a year.
The plan’s allocation of funds includes $80.8 million for drug and alcohol treatment and rehabilitation, and $66.9 million for public education, which will include a multimedia advertising campaign scheduled to begin on
June 11. As well, Epp said that the 1953 Food and Drugs Act and the 1970 Narcotic Control Act will be replaced by a more comprehensive act that will enable law enforcement officers to deal quickly with new drugs coming onto the market.
Among separate announcements following Epp’s initial statement, Solicitor General James Kelleher and Minister of National Revenue Elmer MacKay said that drug squads attached to the RCMP and Canada Customs will get more personnel and equipment. And Justice Minister Ramon Hnatyshyn announced that the Criminal Code will be amended to empower police to trace and seize the profits of drug dealers.
That was good news to RCMP Chief Supt. Rodney Stamler, the Ottawabased director of drug enforcement, who said that the trafficking of highprofit drugs such as cocaine has mush-
roomed alarmingly. “In major centres we are making up to 50kg seizures,” Stamler declared. “This was unheard of two years ago.”
Still, pharmacy professor Joan Marshman, president of the provincially funded, Toronto-based Addiction Research Foundation, said that alcohol abuse is the No. 1 drug problem in Canada. She added that she endorsed the new strategy because “it came out with the right directions—the inclusion of alcohol and the inclusion of treatment.”
The overall plan was developed by a special co-ordinating unit, the Interdepartmental Secretariat on Drug Abuse, which was organized on the initiative of Health and Welfare officials last November in response to growing awareness of a need for government action. The secretariat, with a staff drawn from various government departments, is operating on a temporary basis, but executive director Barbara Darling said that the life expectancy of the policyforming unit is “open-ended,” and that it will be “in place until the job is done.”
Meanwhile, officials at Health and Welfare said that they plan to set up a federal task force which, according to a news release issued last week,
will “consider the creation of a national focus to ensure that expertise in the drug-abuse field is shared for the benefit of all Canadians.” But the announcement does not set out procedures to make clear how that would be done. Said Darling: “Let’s call it a mechanism, but not necessarily bricks and mortar.”
For his part, Epp said that it will take time to see the effects of the drug strategy, but that the government is committed to seeking longterm results.
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