Pubdate: Thu, 25 Aug 2016
Source: Calgary Herald (CN AB)
Page: A13
Copyright: 2016 Postmedia Network
Author: Chris Nelson
Note: Chris Nelson is a Calgary writer.


It's Time to Conquer Addiction for the Good of Everyone; Victims and 
Police Included

Try holding your breath for 72 seconds.

It's uncomfortable, but you'll live, unlike Anthony Heffernan at the 
end of those 72 seconds in that Calgary Super 8 hotel room.

By now, many Calgarians are divided into one of two camps regarding 
the tragic death of this young man, who was shot four times by police 
as he held a syringe in one hand and a lighter in another while under 
the dreadful influence of cocaine.

Some will call him a smackhead, and totally back the police, while 
others will be appalled at the actions of those officers and demand 
some type of justice be handed out.

Oh, were life and death so simple.

Certainly, the Calgary Police Service needs to look at how, from a 
premise of preventing a man doing himself harm, five officers 
forcibly enter a cramped, twin-bedded hotel room, try to calm him 
down, then Taser him several times, before one of them shoots him in 
the head. All that happened in 72 seconds.

But instead of knee jerk blame or revolting, lazy insults against a 
dead man, let us go back a few hours, before hotel staff noticed the 
Do Not Disturb Sign on Room 414 as the noon checkout time approached 
on that March morning back in 2015.

Inside that room, alone with the deadbolt in place, was a young man 
delirious on cocaine.

There was no party going on, no friends to offer companionship or 
even share his drug.

Here was a handsome 27-year-old, loved and supported by his family, a 
clean-cut man who cared about his appearance, went to the gym 
regularly, the barber weekly and was religious about taking his daily 
vitamins, and who was busily working on becoming an electrician.

What makes a man like that lock the door of a lonely hotel room, far 
from his home and family, so he can inject himself with drugs?

It is addiction, of course, and perhaps, if we could stop for a 
moment blaming him for what happened, or the police for their 
actions, we could ask ourselves as a society what we are doing about 
this scourge that's devastating our city?

Because Anthony Heffernan was far from alone with those demons.

Today in Calgary, there are thousands of men, women, girls and boys, 
who are facing similar struggles, some with cocaine, but the majority 
with the brutally addictive and deadly opiates now flooding our country.

In Canada this year alone, about 3,000 people will die from this 
curse, most of them young people like Heffernan.

Simply saying it's their own fault and then leave the police to try 
and deal with this horrific situation is cowardly.

We have fought a war on drugs for 50 years and we've lost every single battle.

Isn't it time to try a new strategy?

A recent news report concluded that the number of deaths from today's 
drug of choice - fentanyl - had stabilized in Alberta, with 145 
deaths recorded up until August. Well, actually it hasn't. The bodies 
are piling up so quickly that toxicology tests are taking six months 
to perform.

So no, it hasn't peaked. We've just peaked trying to keep up with the corpses.

Imagine if that many Canadians were killed in a terrorist attack.

Perhaps if Anthony Heffernan had wandered into the House of Commons 
carrying a syringe and muttering Allah Akbar before being shot we 
would again see a prime minister hurry before the TV cameras that 
same day to reassure us the fight against terror will go on.

Well, 3,000 a year and counting seems pretty darn terrifying to me.

We cannot continue to treat a culture of increasing drug addiction 
simply by criminalizing it and leaving the problem to the police.

Yes, the last 72 seconds of Heffernan's life raise disturbing questions.

But his entire life, along with the lives of many other young 
Canadians, raise just as many.
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