Pubdate: Fri, 01 Dec 2006
Source: Regina Leader-Post (CN SN)
Copyright: 2006 The Leader-Post Ltd.
Author: Pamela Cowan, The Leader-Post


A Community Activist Who Works With Drug Users Says That Prime 
Minister Stephen Harper's Get-Tough-On-Crime Stance Won't Win the War on Drugs.

"Stephen Harper has a mandate to increase funding for law 
enforcement, and he wants to bring in mandatory minimums (of prison 
sentences) and I find that so confusing because we can see what a 
terrible mess the United States is in by having these mandatory 
minimums," said Dr. Susan Boyd, senior research fellow and associate 
professor at the Centre for Addictions Research of B.C.

"(The Americans) have the largest prison population of the Western 
nations and it hasn't curtailed drug use. I don't think there's any 
evidence that harsh drug laws and imprisonment stop drug use -- it 
doesn't even stop it in the prisons."

Harper and Health Minister Tony Clement are ignoring scientific 
evidence that harm-reduction programs decrease harm and public 
disorder, Boyd said in her address, titled Women, Drugs and Harm 
Reduction: Lessons from the Past and Future Considerations.

Speaking at the Beyond the Epidemics conference in Regina on 
Thursday, Boyd acknowledged the need for law enforcement but said it 
isn't meant to deal with social problems.

Harm reduction tries to reduce harm to the individual and society 
non-judgmentally and practically with innovative and flexible 
programs to meet the needs of drug users. Those programs include 
needle exchange, safe injection education and controlled drinking.

Boyd believes that many people with pain in their lives use legal and 
illegal drugs to self-medicate.

Boyd said that harm reduction programs that are culture- and 
gender-appropriate recognize the events that have shaped user's lives.

"Their behaviours are related to abuse, violence, 
institutionalization racism, the residential experience -- unless we 
address those issues, it's very difficult for people to heal."

Instead of pushing for tougher punishment, Harper should focus on 
reducing poverty, Boyd said.

"For a lot of poor users, there's a worry of other disease, such as 
tuberculosis ... If they do contract hepatitis C or AIDS, their 
health status is very different from someone living a comfortable 
middle-class life who has had good health care all their life," Boyd said.

Front-line workers, professionals and people with HIV are attending 
the two-day conference that began Thursday and is being conducted by 
AIDS Programs South Saskatchewan and All Nations Hope AIDS Network.

"Both agencies are extremely small, staff-wise, and our agency covers 
all of southern Saskatchewan, and All Nations Hope does the entire 
province," said Barb Bowditch, a community HIV/AIDS specialist with 
AIDS Programs South Saskatchewan in Regina. "Where we have the 
biggest impact is to bring people together in a conference for two days."

Held for the fifth year, the conference's name has changed from 
Epidemics in Our Communities to Beyond the Epidemics, in order to 
reflect a call to action, Bowditch said.

Bowditch explained that epidemics include HIV, hepatitis C, 
addictions, violence and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

"We need to move forward and make a difference, and each individual 
from the conference will take something back to their communities, 
and if you can get them to think differently -- that's a start," Bowditch said.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Elaine