Pubdate: Thu, 09 Jul 2009
Source: Victoria Times-Colonist (CN BC)
Copyright: 2009 Times Colonist
Author: Richard Watts, Staff Writer


Addiction Not Always 'Choice,' Kendall Tells Cool Aid Society AGM

People with addictions deserve the same kind of medical treatment as
any other patient suffering a health condition, B.C.'s top doctor said

Dr. Perry Kendall, B.C. medical health officer, said a doctor wouldn't
deny insulin treatment to a diabetic because the patient hadn't
learned to eat sensibly, exercise regularly and had yet to lose 50

"We recognize that people have frailties and are human and we offer a
variety of treatments," Kendall said. "We need to do the same with the
most vulnerable people."

He was speaking at the annual general meeting of Victoria Cool Aid
Society, the agency devoted to eliminating homelessness, now in its
41st year.

Kendall has had experience examining the issue of homelessness in
recent years on a task force struck by former Victoria mayor Alan Lowe.

That task force on homelessness came back with a report in 2007 called
Breaking the Cycle of Mental Illness, Addictions and Homelessness,
which arrived at a "housing first" strategy as a priority for helping
people in need.

Speaking to Cool Aid, Kendall said it's nearly impossible for any
person to be healthy, or get healthy without a stable home.

Without so much as a cupboard to store a supply of medicine it becomes
almost impossible to follow a prescribed treatment.

"You cannot be healthy and stay healthy if you are sleeping under a
bush or in a shop doorway," said Kendall.

He also noted a disturbing emergence of attitudes, recently aired in
the national media, declaring addiction a "choice" not an illness.

Kendall said he thought such thinking was "dangerous" since it denies
the complex interactions of genetics, environment, early childhood
development, illness and circumstances that make people so vulnerable
in the first place.

"For a lot of people their choices are so limited they really have no
choice at all," said Kendall.

Likewise, when doctors move into a treatment process for addicts and
other vulnerable people they face a variety of options, not just a
simple choice.

Kendall called for "wrap-around" supply of and access to services and
health care to those dealing with a combination of addiction, mental
illness and homelessness that marks them as one of society's most vulnerable.

Kendall discussed one case of a person with schizophrenia living on
welfare in subsidized housing whose regular outreach visits were cut.

After the visits were cut, the person visited his housing office and
declared he no longer needed the accommodation and offered to
withdraw. He then visited the welfare office and declared he no longer
needed welfare. Instead of raising concerns, both his offers were accepted.

"A red flag should have gone up," said Kendall.

He said in a very short time, the person was living on the street,
self medicating with cocaine and in trouble with the law.

"He spiralled out of control and he was back even worse than he was
before," said Kendall.

"This is not an unusual situation in the kind of traditional delivery
system we have," he said. 
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