Our New/Old Drug Policy: Welcome to the 1980s

The Tories are beginning to lay down the ground work for a new (or should we say old) drug strategy.

The ‘new’ strategy? A TV campaign informing kids that drugs are bad, an increased presence at the border and a slight increase in funding for drug rehabilitation. If it sounds like the 1980s all over again, it is.

Ironically, it is being billed under the new tagline: “Enforcement is harm reduction.”

This is bad news for all of us. The tentative progress of the last decade is about to be lost in one fall swoop, including of course, Vancouver’s Insite injection site.

Let’s be clear, enforcement is not harm reduction.

There is no evidence to suggest that an increased police presence will have any impact on the drug problem in Vancouver, or anywhere else in the country for that matter. Indeed, American’s 36 year old war on drugs demonstrates otherwise. My question to Tony Clement is: what are doing that Nixon (who coined the term “war on drugs“), Carter, Reagan, Bush Sr., Clinton, Bush Jr., and previous Canadian governments, didn’t try? With only a fraction of the resources America dedicated to similar campaigns, explain to us why this policy will be success?

In short, Clement’s strategy is analogous to yelling at a non-english speaker when they don’t understand you. It’s a strategy – and for some people it feels good – but it accomplishes nothing. This is because the problem isn’t that they can’t hear you – it’s that they don’t understand you. Similarly, it’s not that many drug users don’t know drugs are bad – or haven’t seen warning messages – it is that they have come to a place where they are truly dependent. Screaming at them, arresting them, and legally marginalizing them isn’t going bring them into the fold and increase the likelihood they’ll seek treatment – if anything it will accomplish the opposite. I would love to see Clement in the downtown eastside, yelling at users to seek treatment. It would be about as alienating and as effective as it sounds. Contrast that to the injection site’s strategy of developing a relationship with users over time, and keeping the door open for when they are ready. Is it ideal? No, nothing about the world of drugs is ideal. But at least it works.

The simple fact is, Clement wants to overturn a program that enjoys the support and cooperation of the Vancouver Police Department, local community leaders, local business leaders, and Vancouver Costal Health. Still more problematically, Clement wants to replace a program supported by evidence and science with one based on ideology and fear.

The benefits of the injection site and harm reduction strategies are clear. They include:

  • Saving lives by:
    • Reducing overdose fatalities
    • Reducing injection-related infections such as HIV and Hepatitis C
    • Increasing access to addiction treatment programs
  • Improving public order by:
    • Reducing public injections
    • Reducing drug-use related public disorder
    • Reducing drug related waste (such as needles) in public spaces
  • Reducing healthcare and policing costs associated with drug-use by:
    • Reducing emergency room visits
    • Reducing use of ambulatory and emergency response services
    • Reducing police resources dedicated to drug-use related public disorder

If the Conservatives aren’t interested good public policy, policy that saves lives, improves public order and reduces healthcare costs… so be it. But I am certain they are interested in electoral outcomes. Given the injection site’s support in Vancouver (the last polls show it receives a 70% support rate) it will be difficult to secure a seat in the city if the Insite injection site is perceived to be on the chopping block. With Emerson stepping down, the Conservatives won’t have a single MP from one of the country’s three largest cities. If evidence and science can’t persuade them, maybe, just maybe, electoral math can.

For myself, the Insite injection site is what re-invigorated my interest in municipal politics. I hope it survives the December 31st exemption renewal deadline. Otherwise, I’d hate to be the politician who saw Insite go down on their watch – I know I’ll be volunteering for who evers campaign is opposing theirs.

17 thoughts on “Our New/Old Drug Policy: Welcome to the 1980s

  1. Jodie Tonita

    Nice post. This is an issue that deserves our attention. Vancouver/Canada has the potential to be a world leader in addressing the root causes/systemic cycles that lead to addiction while meeting immediate needs in innovative and effective ways that save money and reduce harm. This really should be a no-brainer. Gabor Mate has a new book coming out in February about addiction, based on his experiences in the downtown east-side. His findings and perspective are quite fascinating and worthy of attention.

    Reply
  2. Jodie Tonita

    Nice post. This is an issue that deserves our attention. Vancouver/Canada has the potential to be a world leader in addressing the root causes/systemic cycles that lead to addiction while meeting immediate needs in innovative and effective ways that save money and reduce harm. This really should be a no-brainer. Gabor Mate has a new book coming out in February about addiction, based on his experiences in the downtown east-side. His findings and perspective are quite fascinating and worthy of attention.

    Reply
  3. Tania

    First, thanks for not calling it a “safe injection site”. There’s nothing that grates me more than the media calling it exactly that.

    As one doctor told me, “you cannot safely inject yourself with a harmful substance.” It’s a supervised injection site.

    Anyway, rant aside, I’m glad that the government extended the exemption. Might not be for the reasons you stated here but a six month extension is better than it being shut down. Maybe we’ll have a new government in by the time the mandate needs to be reviewed again?

    Reply
  4. Tania

    First, thanks for not calling it a “safe injection site”. There’s nothing that grates me more than the media calling it exactly that.As one doctor told me, “you cannot safely inject yourself with a harmful substance.” It’s a supervised injection site.Anyway, rant aside, I’m glad that the government extended the exemption. Might not be for the reasons you stated here but a six month extension is better than it being shut down. Maybe we’ll have a new government in by the time the mandate needs to be reviewed again?

    Reply
  5. PMSteve

    Check out the Majority Government Anti-Drug Plan and much more at http://notstephenharper.com

    Please allow me introduce myself – I am not Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He is a persona, an artifice created by party handlers, marketing wonks and image consultants.

    I am tired of having to contort and squeeze myself into every message box, sound bite and news hole. Hence PM Steve Unplugged: just me – raw and unexpurgated.

    No doubt some cynics will say it’s just another sleazy Bulworth-esque marketing ploy to seem edgy and reach the cynical youth demographic using serious attitude and a hip-hopish handle. Meanwhile the marketing-nannies will say I’m committing political suicide by exposing myself unvarnished and uncut. Whatever.

    Long live Headbanger PMSteve. Unplugged. at
    notstephenharper.com aka notstephenharper.blogspot.com

    Reply
  6. PMSteve

    Check out the Majority Government Anti-Drug Plan and much more at http://notstephenharper.comPlease allow me introduce myself – I am not Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He is a persona, an artifice created by party handlers, marketing wonks and image consultants. I am tired of having to contort and squeeze myself into every message box, sound bite and news hole. Hence PM Steve Unplugged: just me – raw and unexpurgated.No doubt some cynics will say it’s just another sleazy Bulworth-esque marketing ploy to seem edgy and reach the cynical youth demographic using serious attitude and a hip-hopish handle. Meanwhile the marketing-nannies will say I’m committing political suicide by exposing myself unvarnished and uncut. Whatever.Long live Headbanger PMSteve. Unplugged. at notstephenharper.com aka notstephenharper.blogspot.com

    Reply
  7. Pingback: Insite - Incremental Death?

  8. paulus

    Policy towards drugs in Europe varies by country but here in the UK the government seems intent on following the same futile strategy as the US war. Today a senior policeman has openly criticised the immorality of the UK laws.

    The policy is doing far more harm than good. There is little doubt that it contributed to the death of Rhys Jones an eleven year old boy shot in the crossfire by a gang member. And drugs policy makes Britain a more dangerous place. The cost of crime resulting from drugs policy is probably far higher than the cost of damage inflicted by terrorists because it happens daily.

    Worse, the government policy is hypocritical: “do as I say and not what I do” is their attitude. Ministers and leaders of the opposition who have admitted taking drugs in their youth and got away with it still want to criminalise those who get caught now. And they are happy to give honours to celebrities who acknowledge taking drugs. Admitted user Elton John was a close friend of the Royal family and was prominent in the funeral ceremony of Diana Princess of Wales.

    The latest excuse: that marijuana is stronger than it used to be does not hold water. If it were legalised and regulated the strength would not be an issue because strength levels could be regulated. An age limit could be placed on purchasers at licensed premises and the illegal trade would be easier to shut down.

    It is a horrible case of one law for the oiks another for the toffs.

    It is great that a senior policeman has the courage to stand up and point out that the policy has failed.

    I have written about this in detail at http://www.thinkhard.org/drugs/index.html

    Reply
  9. paulus

    Policy towards drugs in Europe varies by country but here in the UK the government seems intent on following the same futile strategy as the US war. Today a senior policeman has openly criticised the immorality of the UK laws.The policy is doing far more harm than good. There is little doubt that it contributed to the death of Rhys Jones an eleven year old boy shot in the crossfire by a gang member. And drugs policy makes Britain a more dangerous place. The cost of crime resulting from drugs policy is probably far higher than the cost of damage inflicted by terrorists because it happens daily. Worse, the government policy is hypocritical: “do as I say and not what I do” is their attitude. Ministers and leaders of the opposition who have admitted taking drugs in their youth and got away with it still want to criminalise those who get caught now. And they are happy to give honours to celebrities who acknowledge taking drugs. Admitted user Elton John was a close friend of the Royal family and was prominent in the funeral ceremony of Diana Princess of Wales.The latest excuse: that marijuana is stronger than it used to be does not hold water. If it were legalised and regulated the strength would not be an issue because strength levels could be regulated. An age limit could be placed on purchasers at licensed premises and the illegal trade would be easier to shut down.It is a horrible case of one law for the oiks another for the toffs.It is great that a senior policeman has the courage to stand up and point out that the policy has failed. I have written about this in detail at http://www.thinkhard.org/drugs/index.html

    Reply
  10. muthu

    First wishes for “Drug advice sites”. Of course you can't find out how many they caught, that would vilate national security, just trust in the leader. Do as the leader says, do not question the leader.It's the “leadership principle” in action. ———————–MuthuAlcohol Addiction Treatment

    Reply
  11. Ada

    I don’t believe in police’s effectiveness in solving the drug problem either. Sometimes I’m thinking the Police are corrupted and they are not really getting anyone because they don’t want to. You only hear about teenagers being arrested for drug possession, teenagers who already ruined their lives and will probably end up in drug rehab clinics. But why haven’t they caught the big fish yet???

    Reply
  12. newway

    Vancouver's harm reduction policy is a copout so the goverment doesn't have to buck up for abstinence based long term treatment programs. It allows pharmaceutical companies , doctors , pharmacy's and all the other strategic planning commissions and supporters to line their pockets and cage up the addicts in the hell ridden downtown eastside core where their bullshit services are hawked. Give something new a try. How about long term abstinent teatment centers , not supervised using facilties. Look up insanity in the dictionary. You may have to pull your head out of the sand if you really understood and cared .

    Reply
  13. newway

    Vancouver's harm reduction policy is a copout so the goverment doesn't have to buck up for abstinence based long term treatment programs. It allows pharmaceutical companies , doctors , pharmacy's and all the other strategic planning commissions and supporters to line their pockets and cage up the addicts in the hell ridden downtown eastside core where their bullshit services are hawked. Give something new a try. How about long term abstinent teatment centers , not supervised using facilties. Look up insanity in the dictionary. You may have to pull your head out of the sand if you really understood and cared .

    Reply

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