Together we can end the harmful “War on Drugs”

Today — International Overdose Awareness Day (IOAD) — is not just a day of reflection but a call to action. It is a plea to governments, organizations, and individuals to come together and prioritize life, health, and dignity above prejudice and stigma as we push toward a world where people who use substances are met with understanding and support.

Substance use is criminalized in many parts of the world, and people who use drugs face perilous discrimination, including in the form of punitive drug laws and policies. In Canada, this has created a drug poisoning crisis that claimed a staggering 36,442 lives between January 2016 and December 2022.

It is clear that the so-called “War on Drugs” has failed. We know that reliance on a criminal law response is counter-productive, expensive, and above all, harmful. It is time for Canada to adopt a human rights–based approach to drug policy, which includes, among other things, decriminalizing all drug possession for personal use and selling and sharing drugs for subsistence, to support personal drug use costs, and to provide a safe supply.

The 2021 civil society report — Decriminalization Done Right: A Rights-Based Path for Drug Policy — presents a pathway for implementing drug decriminalization across Canada, which will not only eliminate the harms of criminal legal interventions, but will also provide opportunities to redirect law-enforcement resources toward supporting people’s access to housing, income and food security, harm reduction and other health services, and other social determinants of health.

Recognizing the Unseen

The theme for IOAD 2023 is “Recognizing those people who go unseen.” It is a poignant reminder that the ramifications of overdose ripple out far beyond the individual directly affected.

The “unseen” are the grieving families and friends, who bear the weight of an irreplaceable loss. They are the healthcare and support workers, working tirelessly in the background to keep people safe and alive. They are the bystanders-turned-heroes, who immediately jumped in to save a life. To these pillars of strength, we extend our gratitude and say: #WeSeeYou.

Through a lens of compassion and understanding, Moms Stop the Harm (MSTH) is fighting for a society where people who use drugs have their rights and dignity upheld, by advocating to change failed drug policies, providing peer support to grieving families, and assisting those with loved ones who use or have used drugs.

Today, MSTH chapters across Canada are hosting events to remember the lives that have been lost in their communities, including protests, naloxone training, and public education. Some communities will feature solemn exhibitions that demonstrate the magnitude of the losses experienced, such as the “Purple Chair” campaign, which places empty purple chairs in communities to serve as memorials for each life taken by drug poisoning.  Many communities will also feature Candlelight Vigils of Remembrance. To find out what is happening in your community, please visit:

For more events happening on International Overdose Awareness Day, please visit: