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Canada will decriminalize the possession of small amounts of drugs – including cocaine – in the province of British Columbia, in an effort to reduce deaths from overdoses, which have risen in the past five years, NPR reported.

The experimental policy will only apply to the western province, set to take effect at the beginning of 2023 and last for three years.

The changes will legalize the possession of 2.5 grams or less of illicit drugs, including opioids, cocaine and methamphetamines. The new rules will only apply to people who are above the age of 18.

Overdose deaths spiked at the start of the coronavirus pandemic and remained high in 2021 across Canada.

British Columbia has been the hardest-hit province, even declaring a public health emergency over fentanyl overdoses in 2016.

Provincial and federal officials said the policy shift will focus on health care and “break down the stigma that stops people from accessing life-saving support and services.”

In recent years, Canada has introduced a series of healthcare programs to tackle the overdose epidemic, including providing tests to check drugs for fentanyl and making heroin available by prescription for those who haven’t found success with other treatments.

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