It has become increasingly clear in recent years that Canada is facing a serious substance abuse crisis. Although this problem has existed in various forms for some time, the recent deaths of so many Canadians due to overdoses – particularly through the use of new potent opioids like fentanyl and carfentanyl – is alarming. In British Columbia, for example, 914 deaths resulted from street drug overdoses in 2016, almost twice as many as in the previous year.1 The majority of these deaths are connected to fentanyl use. Opioid overdose deaths are also on the rise across the country, posing a serious problem for health authorities.
The Catholic Bishops of Canada are deeply troubled by the devastating effects of these drugs, in particular their ability to extinguish human life in an instant. Even when they do not kill directly, their addictive power creates what Pope Francis recently referred to as “a new form of slavery.”2 Persons suffering from addiction often have a distorted perception of reality and of what should be desired; the addiction itself is neither representative of who they really are nor is it an authentic expression of their will.
Moreover, the social ramifications of drug addiction are many. It can be the cause of family breakdown and all kinds of impoverishment (social, educational, economic, emotional, spiritual, etc.). During pregnancy, the use of narcotics can result in miscarriage as well as infant chemical dependency and congenital health problems. Beyond the measurable effects of the crisis today, there are others that we do not yet know: effects that are passed down to the children of those afflicted by addictions or that linger in families and communities for years to come.
A drug addiction crisis is a complex reality involving a combination of diverse narcotics, people, backgrounds, and contemporary pressures. A comprehensive and definitive summary of the myriad factors at play and their effects is beyond our immediate scope. In light of the current drug crisis in Canada, however, we are convinced it is important to provide a general orientation in order that the Catholic faithful and other people of good will might better respond to this issue now and in the future, from the national to the local level, both individually and communally.