Pubdate: Wed, 13 Sep 2006
Source: Almaguin News (CN ON)
Copyright: Almaguin News 2006
Author: Catherine White, R.N., B.SC. N.


I am compelled to reply to Clint Haggart's recent rant on and
condemnation of people with addictions and, particularly, people who
inject drugs (August 30, 2006, Opinions: Government is endorsing drug use).

Addictions are a medical problem - not a moral failing. People coping
with the medical problem of addictions (tobacco, food, gambling,
alcohol, prescription drugs, heroin, etc.) are entitled to access a
full range of treatments that are based on scientific evidence and
public health principles - as are all people who are coping with other
chronic and debilitating illnesses. These are not only problems in big
cities such as Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. Injection drug use is
also found in rural areas and small towns throughout Canada and should
concern us all.

Scientifically accepted treatment options for people who inject drugs
cover a continuum of interventions, from harm reduction measures such
as needle exchange and supervised injection services, to substitution
therapy (methadone), to abstinence programs. In the interests of
public health, the availability of these options greatly reduces the
likelihood of the person who is injecting contracting infectious
diseases such as HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C, and inadvertently spreading
these diseases to their spouses or partners. Such infections are
directly related to the sharing and/or re-use of injection equipment
when clean equipment is unavailable.

There is a very large body of scientific evidence that shows the
effectiveness of harm reduction programs such as needle exchange and
opiate substitution therapy in reducing HIV and Hepatitis C
transmission. Needle exchange programs for injection drug users are
found worldwide, including in Europe, China, Iran and Indonesia. These
principles are endorsed by the World Health Organization, UN AIDS and
the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Heroin
prescription as a treatment method has been used in Great Britain for
many years, with excellent results.

Often, when clients use a needle exchange it becomes their first step
into the treatment and helping continuum: some will continue to use
drugs, but remain uninfected by HIV and Hepatitis C; others will
progress to substitution therapies such as methadone maintenance
programs; some will progress to abstinence programs.

The Vancouver supervised injection site (InSite) has operated for the
past three years under a special federal permit. InSite was
established to address the very serious problem that Vancouver has
with epidemic HIV and overdose death rates among its injecting
population in the lower East Side. The project has been subjected to
rigorous social and scientific evaluation, with some very promising
results that show decreasing overdose rates, decreased street crime
and increased uptake of treatment programs by the site users. The
federal government has just extended the special permit for another 18
months to continue to evaluate InSite's effectiveness in meeting its

Harm reduction principles are based on human respect, equity of access
and freedom to make choices. All people have dignity and inherent
worth, no matter how vulnerable they may be. In a civil society,
journalists have a great opportunity (and, I would argue, a
responsibility) to focus public opinion and provide balanced

Sensational opinion pieces such as Mr. Haggart's recent column
contribute to systemic discrimination against vulnerable people. Harms
associated from drug use arise from such stigmatization and social
exclusion. I expect better from the Almaguin News editorial staff.

Catherine White,

R.N., B.SC. N.

- ---
MAP posted-by: Elaine