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.