Pubdate: Thu, 06 Jul 2017
Source: Packet & Times (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 Orillia Packet and Times
Author: Jay Fallis
Page: B5


Following the federal government's announcement that approval for
supervised drug-injection sites would be made more obtainable, the
Sandy Hill Community Health Centre (SHCHC) in Ottawa became one of the
first to submit an application. After receiving confirmation
provincial funding would be provided earlier this year, the centre is
anxiously awaiting final federal approval.

I visited the SHCHC to speak with Rob Boyd. He is a former Orillia
resident, and director of the Oasis Program largely responsible for
the SHCHC's drug-treatment services. We sat down, in the room where
the supervised injection site is planned to be established, to discuss
what will be the centre's newest initiative.

"Once we have our injection service up and running … people will be
able to connect with case-management services, they'll be able to go
to the drop in afterwards to connect with the staff, and go to the
clinic if they have any other health concerns. Or, if the nurse who's
in here identifies something that they might want to have checked out,
they will immediately be able to connect with the primary care
services; they are going to be available right across the hall," Boyd

When consuming hard drugs on the street, away from medical care, users
can put themselves at high risk of overdose and death. By promoting
safer drug use on location, emergencies will be less common and
handled more swiftly. Additionally, users would be exposed to a host
of services that could help to treat their addiction and other medical
and socioeconomic problems.

It was also clear from our conversation that in order to deal with
this problem effectively in Canada, focus needed to be put on managing
and decreasing use, not just eliminating it.

"Very few people actually achieve abstinence. But, to make that the
goal for everybody actually sets people up for failure … So, this idea
that we have to completely eradicate druguse, it's not even an
aspirational goal; it's a delusional goal."

Drug use is a reality our society will always face. If we are to deal
with drug use in a meaningful way, we need to change our approach to

"We would start investing resources into some good, evidence-based
treatment, good outpatient modalities or support around addictions
medicine. We would also stop arresting people and incarcerating
people, which adds to their trauma, which doesn't benefit them in
terms of stopping their use … Through reinvesting that money spent on
the courts, on enforcement and on incarceration, into treatment for
people, you can improve access (to services)."

Boyd also suggested changing our perception of drug use is

"By saying this is a health issue that people have … it enables you to
do things, like what Portugal did, through the decriminalization of
possession. (We need to) really begin to support people around
building their self-esteem, their self-efficacy, and minimizing harm
associated with drug use."

By changing the way our society looks at drug use, focusing on
treatment rather than imprisonment, we can make remarkable strides in
alleviating drug-related problems.

As Boyd also alluded to, Portugal's experience is proof this approach
works. After experiencing a drug crisis in 2001, the country changed
its outlook on drug use, from a criminal act to a health problem.
Through decriminalization, mass dissemination of safe equipment, the
introduction of safe injection sites and the creation of
addiction-treatment clinics, Portugal has gone from Europe's worst
country for drug-related deaths to its second best.

With hard-drug use being a serious problem throughout Canada, perhaps
it would be best to follow in the footsteps of Portugal and the SHCHC.
By treating drug users not as criminals, but as people who need help,
our society can truly address this problem.

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Jay Fallis grew up just outside of Orillia and is passionate about
Canadian politics. He has a master's in political science from the
University of Toronto. He can be reached at  com.
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