Pubdate: Fri, 03 Mar 2017
Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Vern White
Page: A9


The rich can afford it but the poor are left waiting, writes Sen. Vern

Much has been written about the addiction problem facing Canadians,
and there's good information provided by teen and Health
Canada on the challenges Canadians face.

According to statistics on these two websites, approximately two per
cent of Canadians over the age of 15 say they have suffered personal
harm as a result of illicit drug abuse, and 47,000 Canadian deaths
(this includes more than overdose deaths) are linked to substance
abuse annually. The numbers are growing.

The dramatic increase of opioid use in Canada and the rate of deaths
as a result is alarming. In British Columbia and Alberta, in excess of
2,000 people have died from drug overdoses in 2015-2016 combined. By
November 2016, British Columbia was averaging more than four per day.

Ontario has seen its death rate climb as well: In 2014, more than 700
people died in the province from opioid-related causes.

At the same time, access to residential treatment has not improved,
with most public access beds having wait lists of four months or more.
The use of illegal drugs or legal drugs sold illegally has been a
serious problem in Canada for decades, yet we still lack sufficient
sustainable and accessible treatment programs.

Both health care and law enforcement professionals agree on the impact
immediate or near-immediate residential and non-residential addictions
treatment can have. And the policing and the justice system cannot act
or succeed alone.

The lack of addiction treatment in Canada has been a growing concern.
The Canadian Centre for Substance Abuse, as well as grassroots
treatment centres, say demand far exceeds the ability to provide. The
reality, however, is that treatment is available - if you can afford
it. There are private facilities here in Ontario, elsewhere in Canada
and in the United States, where those with the financial capacity can
gain entry.

For the rest, and often their families, the fight against addiction
strains every part of their lives. Parents speak of sleeping on the
floor outside their child's bedroom so the young person doesn't run
away; of the stealing and lying; and of the fear that their child will
die while awaiting treatment.

Governments have responded to addiction with multiple initiatives. For
the most part, the police and the criminal justice system have
targeted the distribution networks, both in-country and offshore.

The challenge is, the issue of addictions is really about the addict,
not the dealer. So while energy and resources focus on stopping the
distribution of illegal and illicit drugs, the success of this has
been suspect, at best.

Not that arrests and legal interdiction aren't necessary; the need to
combat organized crime is an important aspect of any drug-interdiction
model. Yet the reality is that arrests, seizures and charges have gone
up, year by year, while prices have been going down and access increasing.

Therefore, we must have a multi-pronged approach.

I have spoken at a number of police leadership and training events in
the past years, and police say there needs to be a drug strategy that
focuses on early access to treatment. The Canadian Centre for
Substance Abuse notes in its research that in a one-year period, "4.4
per cent of Canadians aged 15 and older met the criteria for a
substance use disorder" while acknowledging "only a fraction of
Canadians with substance use problems are accessing appropriate care
in the form of evidence-informed treatment."

Many are pinning their hopes on increased Supervised Injection Site
(SIS) access. There are challenges with this connection: First, many
who are dying are not injection users, but rather are dying
accidentally from popping pills that contain unknown substances;
second, the centres are going to be in areas where hard-core users are
located, not the occasional user we see in recent cases.

There is another problem with SIS facilities: The users of such
facilities today follow a path. They are typically hard-core users,
many of them involved in illegal activity to get funds to purchase an
illegal, non-pharmaceutical substance from a criminal who often
supports a criminal organization. So we are, in essence, putting the
addict's life in jeopardy while supporting criminal activity at
multiple levels. There is an alternative. Let's put this back into the
care and control of medical personnel who prescribe whatever they feel
is necessary to save the life of the addict. We already prescribe
opioids (methadone) to addicts. Let medical personnel handle this in a
medical manner, removing illegal activity and street poison from the
hands of addicts and putting the care and responsibility clearly
between that of addict (patient) and doctor.

In essence, let's allow the issue of addictions to be about the
addict, ensuring he or she receives medical attention and treatment,
not medical oversight as in the standard SIS model.

Conservative Sen. Vern White was Ottawa's police chief from 2005 to 2012.
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