Pubdate: Mon, 08 Sep 2008
Source: Calgary Herald (CN AB)
Copyright: 2008 Canwest Publishing Inc.
Author: Colette Derworiz, Calgary Herald
Bookmark: (Harm Reduction)


Drug Strategy Meant to Fight Addiction and Reduce Related Criminal Activity

Aiming to reduce crime related to alcohol, drugs and prostitution on
Calgary's streets, the city is drafting a ground-breaking addictions

An interdepartmental team -- made up of bylaw, police, and community
and neighbourhood services -- has been quietly working on the
strategy, with plans to pitch it to city council early next year.

It comes as concerns are being raised about the deterioration of the
downtown core, where drug dealers openly ply their trade and crack
addicts seek their next fix.

"There was a need for the city to stand up and do something -- and the
first thing was understand it," said Bill Bruce, director of bylaw
services, who is leading the development of the strategy. "There is a
lot of work that has to come to the forefront on how to manage it properly.

"This is not a quick fix. It's not give the guy two Tylenol and send
him home; this is long-term."

The proposal, which is expected to be complete by the end of the year,
will focus on reducing the effects of addictions on society --
particularly people who commit petty crimes to feed an addiction.

It will be modelled on existing drug strategies in cities such as
Vancouver, Edmonton, Regina and Toronto.

Municipal drug strategies, many of which have been in place for
several years, often approach drug problems in cities with a
four-pillar approach: prevention, harm-reduction, treatment and

The strategies start by identifying issues and impacts, and
documenting current research and best practices in other cities.
Implementation panels made up of local experts -- from street outreach
workers to politicians -- then come up with solutions to the local

Social service agencies in Calgary are welcoming the city's proposal,
suggesting a drug strategy is long overdue.

"It's a great idea," said Louise Gallagher, manager of public
relations for the Drop-In Centre. "As far as I know, Calgary is the
only city that doesn't have a harm-reduction program or any strategy."

A drug strategy, she said, would make it safer for those people who
are dealing with addictions.

"Addicts are very vulnerable individuals on our streets," said
Gallagher. "It also helps us deal with reality as it is, so we can
then put in place some very essential services that will, again, keep
people safe."

Aldermen were also encouraged by the development of a strategy that
also includes prevention.

"It's a necessary step," said Ald. Druh Farrell, whose ward includes
much of the downtown core where the social problems are prevalent.
"This issue can't be solved with enforcement (alone).

"Sadly we've neglected prevention because it's not as tangible and it
requires a long-term commitment and so it seems to be the easiest
thing to cut . . . we're paying the price right now. We're also paying
the price of denial that we had a problem."

Ald. Brian Pincott agreed, noting the costs of having police and EMS
deal with addicts has become a huge burden for the city.

Similar conclusions were made in January when the city released its
10-year plan to end homelessness, which suggested injecting money
upfront would save costs in health care, EMS and policing.

Officials in other cities suggested Calgary's homeless plan will have
some crossover with a drug strategy, which also focuses on prevention.

Strategies in other cities have led to 24-hour crisis teams for
addicts in Toronto and the distribution of safer crack use kits in
Ottawa and Toronto.

In Regina, the implementation panel has recommended the opening of a
new detox centre to deal with those addicts who are often sent to
police cells or emergency rooms.

Vancouver, the first city in Canada to adopt a comprehensive drug
policy in 2001, has replaced its traditional law-and-order approach
with a plan that includes prevention, harm reduction and treatment.

Drug strategies in cities such as Vancouver developed in response to a
specific problem.

"Ours sort of grew out of a real disaster, a real public policy or
public health disaster in the downtown east side," said Donald
McPherson, drug policy co-ordinator for the City of Vancouver.

"The hole we had to climb out of was huge. We not only had to mobilize
our own resources at the city . . . but we also had to begin to work
with the province and the feds."

But McPherson said the strategy has given municipal politicians a
greater say in the decision-making process.

"It really puts the municipalities in a different position than just
sort of pointing the finger at other levels of government's fault," he
said. "Other levels of government often don't have much patience for
that behaviour."

It also engages communities into coming up with local solutions, added
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake