Remember that media-fueled tempest in a teapot in June of this year? That brief but startling drug scare raised the profile of “legal highs” like MDPV, though it likely did little to protect the health of potential and current users, albeit a small group of people. Media coverage did prompt the Canadian federal government to propose that MDPV or Methylenedioxypyrovalerone (Yes! If you can spell it, you can schedule it), be included in Schedule I of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act where the harshest penalties for possession and trafficking would apply.
As is usually the case, Health Canada sought feedback on this proposal and in early July the CDPC submitted a response. Our submission was an opportunity to sharpen our analysis of the ease in which governments respond to some drugs with new and harsher forms of criminalization. We suggested that prohibition of this substance would have unintended negative effects, and recommended that alternative models for regulating MDPV be sought that would balance the need to protect the health of Canadians against the potentially negative effects of prohibition. We also drew attention to the important distinctions between prohibition and regulation of drugs and pointed out how the federal proposal to prohibit MDPV forgoes the possibility of regulating and thereby reducing harms from this substance in any meaningful way.
We underscored our concerns about the health and societal risks posed by MDPV, but suggested that the proposal to place this drug in Schedule 1 of the CDSA would not achieve the intended outcome of reducing the dangers of MDPV, and would have unintended negative consequences for people who use this substance. We encouraged a more fulsome discussion of the models and options available to regulate all psychoactive substances, drawing on lessons learned from other public health policy issues. We also emphasized that Health Canada’s proposal to schedule this drug was premature given the limited amount of available information about the science of this drug, the limited scale of its use, and the media hyperbole surrounding its emergence.
If you would like more information about this issue, a full copy of our submission is available here.