Pubdate: Sat, 08 Sep 2001
Source: Hamilton Spectator (CN ON)
Copyright: The Hamilton Spectator 2001
Author: Jeff Wilbee
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


It is time for a full-scale discussion, in Ontario and across the country, 
on the use of illegal drugs and our response as a society. Eminent bodies 
such as the Canadian Medical Association and the Fraser Institute question 
continuing the status quo. For example, should we decriminalize so-called 
soft drugs? That discussion will have varied views. Even within the 
addiction-treatment profession, there's no consensus. Nevertheless, let's 
get on with the debate.

But we strongly agree that not enough attention has been paid to this 
serious, complex, and costly societal problem. Addiction-treatment programs 
are very underfunded; but their return on investment is so high that 
increased support by all levels of government is really a no-brainer. The 
estimated return ranges from $6 on a $1 investment up to a high of $17.

The Alcohol and Drug Recovery Association of Ontario supports the view that 
drug abuse should be looked upon primarily as a health issue rather than a 
criminal one. Funds should be diverted from the criminal-justice system to 
enhance drug-prevention and treatment programs.

But, we cannot wait for the future. Such funding is a necessity today if we 
are to maintain just our current system; funding is even more important if 
we are to be more successful in helping the growing number of Canadians 
with addictions.

A recent U.S. report indicated that persons charged with a drug offence has 
increased by 40 per cent. Some 65 per cent of those charged in 1999 had 
been previously arrested. Although these are American recidivism figures, 
there is every reason to believe Canada's experience is similar.

We are continuing to lose the war on drugs. Even more frustrating is that, 
when we have initiatives that show a better way -- such as the Toronto drug 
treatment court that combines the weight of the justice system with the 
compassion of treatment -- Canadians are extremely slow to respond. This 
lack of interest and courage to act on our best knowledge reduces the 
quality of life in our country.

There is no doubt that shifting our collective and political thinking will 
be difficult. But seeing addiction as a health, rather than a criminal, 
issue will cost taxpayers less; good treatment services are cheaper than 
just sending people to jail. So, let's begin that discussion.

- -- Jeff Wilbee, Cambridge,

Executive Director,

Alcohol and Drug Recovery

Association of Ontario.
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MAP posted-by: Terry Liittschwager