Pubdate: Tue, 10 Dec 2002
Source: Halifax Herald (CN NS)
Copyright: 2002 The Halifax Herald Limited
Author: Sue Bailey, The Canadian Press


Severe Addicts Need 'Care, Support'

Ottawa - Heroin addicts should have safe-injection sites and expanded 
needle-exchange programs that could save their lives, says a parliamentary 
panel dominated by Liberals.

And two prisons should be converted into treatment centres for addicts 
serving time, the all-party committee on non-medical drug use recommended 
Monday. It did not suggest specific locations.

In a report to be released Thursday, the 13 MPs are also expected to urge 
easing restrictions on marijuana possession.

Not all committee members agreed with Monday's recommendations, and the 
Canadian Police Association raised alarms.

Canadian Alliance MPs said providing legal shooting galleries is going too far.

"We're not suggesting anyone be soft on drugs," countered Liberal MP Paddy 
Torsney, head of the committee.

But she stressed that while illicit drug use is a crime, it's also a health 

Ottawa needs to spend significantly more on related health costs and 
educate the public about legal and illicit drugs, Torsney said.

The committee provided no cost estimates for its 39 recommendations.

Health Canada's $104-million drug strategy is underfunded and must be 
beefed up with a national public awareness campaign, Torsney said.

In total, Ottawa spends about $500 million a year to fight illicit drug 
use, most of it on police enforcement.

Yet, current efforts are failing to thwart prison drug suppliers or ease 
the human toll of addiction in the general public, Torsney said.

Whether the substance is legal or not, the most severe addicts warrant 
help, she said.

"They're somebody's brother or sister and they're deserving of our care and 

The committee says Ottawa should "remove any federal regulatory or 
legislative barriers" to ease the way for safe-injection sites and to track 
how well they work.

Health Canada pre-empted the committee last week when it issued guidelines 
for how safe-injection drug sites will operate at pilot sites, likely in 
Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal.

Such "harm-reduction" strategies revolve around the idea that at least drug 
users can be monitored and put in touch with health workers.

Police point out that crime is frequently the means by which addicts get 
their drugs.

Torsney says to get around that, Ottawa should study treatment models 
whereby the government itself supplies the drug in a safe setting.

Laws would have to be changed to allow such exceptions, and police would 
need clear guidelines on the rules surrounding such places.

"We're sliding down a slippery slope," said David Griffin, executive 
officer of the Canadian Police Association.

Police would have to grapple with neighbours' complaints and otherwise 
criminal drug users heading to and from legal injection sites, he said.

Torsney pointed out that open drug use in parks and alleys is worse than 
safe-injection sites.

But Canadian Alliance MP Randy White, vice-chairman of the committee, said 
such proposals aid rather than cure heroin addiction.

So-called "harm-reduction" measures are wrong-headed and send a confusing 
message, he said.

"They will maintain a chemical dependency to dangerous and illicit drugs 
over a much longer period of time."

White said he toured similar programs in Europe.

"I saw human carnage for blocks, as well as a substantial gathering of 
addicts and pushers in the areas where trafficking and using were 
reluctantly permitted."

Other committee recommendations include:

A drug commissioner to oversee a new national strategy and report each year 
to Parliament.

National surveys every two years to track use of legal and illicit substances.

More study of prescription drug use.

Seizing the property of drug dealers and using part of proceeds for treatment.

It's now up to the government to act on the committee's recommendations or 
shelve them.

Illicit drugs are estimated to result in $5 billion a year in health care, 
lost productivity, property crime and police costs.
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MAP posted-by: Larry Stevens