Any serious attempt by our civic
leaders to tackle Vancouver’s major drug problem
deserves at least a round of applause. But the logic
behind Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan’s recent foray
into the murky field of drug policy appears to be
Sullivan argues that drug users don’t
respond to treatments requiring them to give up
drugs. As a result, they continue to be involved in
crime to get money for their fix. His solution?
Provide 700 crystal meth and cocaine addicts with
free, substitute drugs.
Twenty-five years ago, the mayor’s
idea might have had some traction. It was in the
early 1980s that the concept of “harm reduction”
first took root.
Addictions workers feared a plague of
HIV/AIDS spread by intravenous drug users into the
general population. They began to think it was
better to cater to the addicts’ health needs (by
offering free needles, for example) than to try to
get them to quit using drugs. And, over the years,
“harm reduction” became a rigid ideology embedded in
drug policy, not just in Canada, but throughout the
Its most recent incarnation is
Vancouver’s Insite clinic, where addicts receive
clean needles and medical assistance to inject their
Supporters of the clinic are adamant
that it has been a success. They are upset that
neither the federal government nor the RCMP show any
enthusiasm for continuing the experiment.
But there are those within the
addictions community who question the continuing
emphasis on harm reduction. They believe it is time
to reassert prevention as the primary goal.
As professor Neil McKeganey, director
of the Centre for Drug Misuse Research at the
University of Glasgow, has pointed out, it was never
quite clear how harm-reduction strategies were going
to achieve “the almost magical aims of both
facilitating drug users’ continued drug use . . .
and encouraging drug users in becoming drug-free.”
That paradox is at the core of
Canada’s inability to develop a coherent policy on
Harm reduction may be a panacea for
existing addicts, but it does nothing to prevent the
appearance of new generations of users. It may even
do the opposite. Certainly, we have a duty to offer
long-term treatment to addicts who want to quit.
And we should concentrate our efforts
on warning people, especially young people, about
the perils of drugs that are all too readily
Instead of offering a free fix to the
fallen, Sullivan should be finding ways to safeguard
the innocent. What do you think? Leave a brief
comment, name and town at: 604-605-2029, fax:
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