Pubdate: Tue, 18 Aug 2015
Source: Calgary Herald (CN AB)
Copyright: 2015 Postmedia Network
Author: Rob Breakenridge
Page: B8


It was a striking contrast last week as Conservative Leader Stephen 
Harper denounced the concept of harm reduction just as Alberta Health 
Services deployed a version of it.

Harper had a lot to say about drug policy and it only served to 
underscore just how irrational and counterproductive our approach is. 
That didn't begin with the Tories, obviously, but they have very 
decidedly and proudly embraced a much harsher brand of prohibitionism.

Harper's remarks last week didn't actually touch on the fentanyl 
crisis - perhaps because it might raise some uncomfortable questions 
about the unintended consequences of government policy. Fentanyl use 
has surged following Ottawa's crackdown on Oxycodone. In 2011, for 
example, Calgary saw six fatal fentanyl overdoses. We're at 45 
already this year. In response, AHS is providing users with 
potentially life- saving advice: use only small amounts at first, 
don't use it alone, and make sure that someone has access to 
naloxone, a drug that can reverse the effects of an overdose. It's an 
approach that has worked elsewhere.

Harper's target, rather, was Insite, Vancouver's remarkably 
successful supervised injection site. Insite's very existence, 
though, is at odds with Tory doctrine, and they spent years trying to 
shut it down.

Now the Conservatives are warning that the Liberals and/ or NDP would 
allow more such facilities to open - maybe even in your 
neighbourhood. In fact, the warning on the Conservative website was 
accompanied by an ominous photograph of a playground, as though the 
next Insite might be plunked down right next to it.

Mind you, if you're not dodging passed-out junkies or used needles 
when you leave your home, then your neighbourhood is probably a lousy 
candidate for such a facility. On the other hand, if your 
neighbourhood is plagued by the grim spectre of heroin addiction, 
Insite might be a godsend.

Insite's successes are very much relevant in the context of our 
struggle to contain fentanyl related deaths. Fentanyl-laced heroin 
has been turning up on Vancouver streets, and despite the several 
overdoses that have occurred at Insite, no one has died there. When 
one considers the success Insite has had in reducing deaths, reducing 
injection drug use, reducing drug-related crime, and reducing HIV 
rates, that shouldn't come as a surprise. The only surprise has been 
the government's strident opposition. A similar dearth of evidence 
exists around the government's approach to marijuana. While one 
federal leader seems to have come to grips with the failure of 
prohibition, Harper remains completely oblivious to it. He claimed 
last week that a majority of Canadians in fact support his position 
on pot, though several recent surveys on the matter would disagree.

Harper made claims about how legalization would lead to greater 
availability and reduced health outcomes, claims that were thoroughly 
debunked in a report that was coincidentally released last week by 
the Toronto-based International Centre for Science in Drug Policy.

Harper also floated the apparently horrifying prospect of marijuana 
being sold like alcohol and tobacco. Yet, alcohol and tobacco are 
sold like alcohol and tobacco and presumably Harper also frowns on 
young people using either of these drugs.

However, Harper himself inadvertently made the case for regulation 
over prohibition. He talked about the success Canada has had in 
reducing rates of teen tobacco use, which are now in fact among the 
lowest in the developed world. He failed to mention, though, that our 
rates of teenage marijuana use are among the highest in the world. 
How curious that we're able do a better job of keeping the legal drug 
away from kids than the illegal one.

While many of the claims about the Conservatives' disdain for 
evidence have been exaggerated or invented, when it comes to our war 
on drugs, evidence is one of many casualties. It is on this issue 
where the worst impulses of this government are on full display. More 
of the same is clearly not the answer.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom