Pubdate: Tue, 11 Oct 2016
Source: Hamilton Spectator (CN ON)
Copyright: 2016 The Hamilton Spectator
Author: Ken Durkacz
Page: A13


There's an addiction crisis: Morality has no place here. This is a
health issue. Period.

As Hamiltonians begin to debate the possibility of introducing safe
injection sites in our city, it is important to understand that Canada
and the United States are in the grips of an addiction crisis like we
have never seen in our history.

This problem is complex; it is not going to go away easily, and it is
not going to be defeated by punishing addicts.

The addiction crisis we are experiencing has been decades in the
making: it was brought to us by Big Pharma, most notably Purdue
Pharma, the original creator of OxyContin. This drug was touted by
them as being non-addictive.

The medical community seemed to have simply accepted these promises,
and began issuing prescriptions in huge numbers. In their early print
ads, Purdue called OxyContin a "friend for life" for those suffering
from chronic pain. Some friend. Addiction rates soared. As did
prescriptions issued. Canadians were issued a staggering 21.7 million
opioid prescriptions in 2015, in a country of 35 million. Drug
companies made billions while addiction rates soared. As prescription
drug costs increased and the drugs themselves were made more "tamper
proof," new addicts turned to street drugs. Mexican cartels seized on
the new market opportunity and began again to grow poppies and produce
heroin to meet the demand.

They also began to introduce easily and cheaply available fentanyl
into their products. Now, on top of an addiction crisis, we have a
"death by overdose" crisis sweeping across our two nations.

It is nothing short of a national health emergency. We need clear
thinking to help us deal with it. Morality has no place here. This is
a health issue. Period.

As for the legal argument, the "war on drugs" has been an abject
failure. The billions of dollars spent on law enforcement have been
wasted. If even a portion of these monies had been spent on treatment,
on counselling, on helping addicts, things would have improved. A
chief of police in Gloucester, Mass., is a person whose clear thinking
on the issue has led to real change. He was recently feted at the
White House for his contribution to the fight against opioid addiction
in his town. He recognized the growing problem. He diverted funds from
incarceration to addiction counselling. He allowed addicts to come in
to police stations, even while in possession of heroin, promising
help, not punishment.

Safe injection sites can be part of the solution. They are about harm
reduction. This is true for both addicts and the communities in which
they live. There can be no debate. The data are already in. There are
sites in cities in at least eight countries around the world,
including Canada. Crime rates in areas where these sites exist drop.
So do rates of HIV and hepatitis.

On a trip to Vancouver some 10 years ago, my family saw the Insite
facility. My daughter, then 13, reacted with the moral indignation
only a 13-year-old can display: IT WAS WRONG.Drugs are against the
law. Wasting public money to fund a place where people were allowed to
break the law - well, that was absurd. No logic could sway her.

On our last night in the city, we were walking down a deserted street
in the downtown. On the other side of the street, 50 metres ahead of
us, we noticed a young boy, perhaps 16. Suddenly, he stopped under a
shop awning that was lit and out of the drizzle.

With a clearly practised skill, he knelt, rolled up his pant leg and
pulled his preloaded rig from his backpack, injected his calf, rolled
down his pants and carried on. We watched in sadness and horror. My
daughter was reduced to tears.

Once the tears subsided, I gently asked her if she felt the same way.
Wouldn't it be better for that young man to be cared for in a facility
with nurses, rather than kneeling in the grit under a shop light? It
was of course, a rhetorical question. Her opinion shifted

Drug addiction is a matter of city life. As Coun. Green points out,
people are already injecting in public places. Any place with a public
washroom is a potential injection site, with no proper place to
dispose of potentially harmful sharps. Imagine a worker or a child
finding an addict in the throes of an overdose. It makes a safe
injection site look like a good idea to me.

I live in a neighbourhood that has the potential for having a safe
injection site. I would welcome it. I believe in harm reduction, in
lower crime rates, in helping those in dire need. I also understand
that this addiction crisis is not just an inner-city problem. It is a
countrywide problem. Solutions require clear and informed thinking.

Most addicts would agree they are already in hell.

Now they need help.

Ken Durkacz teaches in Hamilton
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