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Safe-Injection Sites

Most of the time, I strive to put a little irony or satire in my posts. I rant but I prefer to rant at absurdity with tongue in cheek because sometimes absurdity just makes you laugh despite the…well…absurdity of it all. Sometimes though, there is nothing funny in an issue, or at least, nothing funny I can find and I end up writing a post that has no attempt at humour in it. I don’t enjoy writing those posts even though I feel a need to write them. I’m afraid this is one of those posts.

There is a lot of talk about safe-injection sites where drug addicts would be given free needles and crack pipes and a place to use their drug of choice. Proponents of safe-injection sites refer to this as a harm-reduction strategy while those opposed look on it as a threat to law and order in their communities.

Who’s right?

It would be arrogant of me to suggest that I am right and while I have sometimes been called arrogant, it was more for my personality than over a particular issue. The truth is that I have struggled with the issue of safe-injection sites for some time. I understand and respect the argument that these sites may reduce the spread of serious diseases like hepatitis and AIDS but, and there is always a but, there are some things I just can’t get past.

First, there is the broader issue that the increased use of illegal drugs is always linked to an increase in crime.. Heroin and crack are not only illegal, the distribution of them is rooted deep in very serious and violent crime. Gangs fight each other for territory and just recently BC warned its citizens that it could not guarantee their safety from drug-related gang violence. BC is one of the few jurisdictions with safe-injection sites and there may well be a causal link between increased drug use as a result of those sites and drug-related gang violence in what drug dealers look on as a lucrative marketplace. Coupled to this is the simple truth that too many junkies commit non-violent crimes like theft and break & enter to find the money to feed their habit. Many who support safe-injection sites deny this but the facts are available to anyone who wants to look beyond their own position on the issue.

Then there is the health issue. Stopping the spread of serious diseases is a laudable initiative and one I support but at what human cost? I believe we do need to help those who have fallen into a deep addiction to hard drugs but I don’t believe we help them by enabling their continued addiction. In fact, I believe that safe-injection sites have nothing to do with helping or protecting addicts and everything to do with helping the rest of us protect ourselves from the diseases they might potentially spread. I don’t consider that harm-reduction, I consider that vested self-interest.

I would rather see a concerted effort to enforce the drug laws, not only for distribution, but for possession. I would like to see addicts given rehab opportunities to get them off drugs and where necessary, education and/or job training to give them a chance at a better quality of life. I would consider that to be an effective use of tax dollars. No matter what you might call it, enabling illegal behaviour lends that behaviour credence. It legitimizes it and reduces the need to change that behaviour. Neither society nor the addict are helped by that.

I am aware that many will think I am a right-wing bigot for my position and that too is part of the problem facing our society today. We seek simplistic solutions to complex issues and once one group or another has latched on to a seeming solution, they don’t bother to look beyond their solution. They become entrenched in the belief that they are right and that anyone who doesn’t agree with them is intolerant, insensitive and/or on the extreme of the opposite political divide. The refuse to consider alternatives because they beome rooted in the belief that there are none.

I spent some time in a psych ward once for a mental illness that I was fortunate enough to overcome with medical help. While I was there, I saw the ravaging effects of drug use on people, especially young people. The devastation was complete in many cases and the potential of their futures lost to an addiction that had all but destroyed their bodies and their minds. Safe-injection sites won’t prevent that. They do nothing to protect addicts from the long-term impact of drug use. I believe that harm-reduction must be more than just protecting addicts from a couple of diseases, as serious as they might be. I believe harm-reduction strategies must be broader in scope, protecting the addict from disease by addressing the addiction rather than enabling it and protecting the broader society from drug-related violent crime by reducing drug use. It isn’t a war on drugs that I advocate, it’s the reduction in the need for those drugs and their availability.

Until someone with more knowledge than I have, until someone with true vision shows up, we will continue to put forward simplistic solutions that in the end do nothing to address the real problems we face; solutions that divide rather than unify us. Unfortunately no matter how much we might want to believe otherwise,  safe-injection sites isn’t one of those solutions.

The simple truth is that implistic solutions not only don’t solve the problem, they usually create new ones. Next week, a government committee will be examining the Supreme Court’s ruling and its impact on prisoners in Canadian prisons. It seems that there is a very real possibility that Canada could soon be allowing its convicts to legally shoot heroin while in prison, all in the name of harm reduction.

What harm could there possibly be in that?

In the interest of promoting a fair and open discussion on this topic, I am posting a link to an article on the legalization of drugs in Portugal. It was provided to me by someone who did not agree with my position and illustrates a very positive response to the legalization of illegal drugs. Nontheless, the Portugese experience stands in stark contrast to that of Switzerland and England (which provided free methadone clinics). My opinion remains unchanged but I leave it to you to form your own.





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