Pubdate: Mon, 07 Aug 2017
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 The Toronto Star
Author: Rosie DiManno
Page: A2


If half a dozen deaths in Toronto last week were likely attributable
to fatal opioid-related overdoses, how many do you think would have
died if those drugs were legal? Fewer? I don't see the logic in that.
Easier access to drugs and no criminal liability wouldn't discourage
use, surely. And we're not talking here about a mild mind-bending
substance such as pot, which is to become decriminalized in Canada
next year. Still stupid - dumb-downing of the populace . . . but it is
the consensus will of the nation - because we seem to be just fine
with the stupefying effect of "recreational" marijuana and hash
despite all the evidence of young lives going off the rails when
teenagers toked to the gills lose interest in school and sports and
healthy activities.

There is a domino effect to falling in thrall with drugs. If you
haven't experienced that reality in your own family, then you're
lucky, that's all. Or maybe the people you love aren't part of that
sub-sect physiologically and psychologically susceptible to addiction.
Most users - 90 per cent, according to the literature - will never be
addicted, but 10 per cent strikes me as a really high casualty
demographic, no pun intended, and the legalization argument gives
those lost souls short shrift.

But it has made gazillions for the rehab industry.

Anyway, the subject isn't dope. It's exceedingly harmful psychoactive
substances such as fentanyl and heroin and methamphetamines, the
"hillbilly" version of H, which has seized America in its meth lab
grip with heroin deaths tripling nationally since 2010.

Harm reduction is a fine philosophy. I wish it were that easy. All
that money spent on law enforcement and court procedures redirected to
"safe" consumption and drug education and health services. Empty out
the jails in one fell swoop, turn the addled addicts loose on their
own compulsions. Turn also a blind eye to the damage done on users and
by users - upon their families, their neighbourhoods, their

Go ahead and have the discussion, as Toronto's medical officer of
health urged at media briefing, the city reeling from some 80 overdose
cases in hospital emergency in the last week of July. For most
residents, that spate of drug wreckage had zero impact. Not so for
front-line medical staff, including nurses who are often subjected to
violence from the drug-crazed, and cops working at ground zero of the
crisis, and neighbourhoods such as mine swamped by drug crime.

At a bar patio a hundred yards from where I live, a gunman shot five
people last week, leaving one dead and four wounded. Probably
gangbanger related. And what business do you think street gangs are
involved in?

None of that goes away with safe consumption sites - of which there
should be many more beyond the three supervised injection sites
approved by city council. As long as every community bears its fair
share and not just mine, which is already overrun with missions and
shelters that turn out their bleary-eyed occupants - so many clearly
mentally ill - every morning, leaving them to fare as best they can on
the streets. Because everybody has to be somewhere and on occasion
that somewhere is in a drug-induced stupor beneath my back steps.

We've lost the "war on drugs" and now some want to make a tawdry peace
with it, advocating for total decriminalization because public policy
and law enforcement have proven disastrously ineffective.

Let's talk about it, at least, perhaps rethink it, encouraged Dr.
Eileen de Villa and board of health chair Councillor Joe Mihevc. "It's
clear that our current approach to drugs in this city and this country
doesn't seem to be having the desired impact," de Villa observed.

Well, city officials can discuss it all they want, but drug
legislation is a federal matter and decriminalizing all those toxic
substances would be a bridge too far even for Prime Minister Justin
Trudeau. That approach may have had positive results in Portugal,
often cited as a shining example of wise, evidence-based drug policy,
where use is addressed as a medical issue under 2001 reforms. And it's
true, if you cherry-pick statistical data. But that same data shows a
40-per-cent increase in homicides related to drugs, even as overdose
deaths have plunged. (Also, contrary to myth, drugs are still not
legal in Portugal; those caught with drugs are hauled before a
"commission for the dissuasion of drug addiction," can be fined,
placed in a compulsory treatment program and have their passport
confiscated. But they won't have a criminal record.)

As a municipal example, Oslo - Europe's death overdose capital -
monitors trafficking in the city's go-to drug district around the
docks and central train station, but police have essentially adopted a
no-arrest policy for the area. And it's become a dangerous,
crime-infested neighbourhood seeping its miseries outward. Ugly,
sordid, a pustule of addiction, junkies like zombies.

This is the crucial flaw - and fallacy - in the drug decriminalization
movement: Users still die, first-timers and junkies. The criminal
underbelly of trafficking hasn't been remotely marginalized.
Neighbourhoods deluged by drugs are shot to hell.

In southern Ontario, the OxyContin frenzy isn't being driven by
prescriptions; the narcotic is a dealer's nirvana.

I've no enthusiasm for tossing users behind bars. Criminal records are
a terrible burden. Users are more to be pitied than punished - and
yes, helped in all ways possible. But there has to be some
disincentive. Because it's not just about self-harm and how to save
their lives. It's about the community's pulse too, the body politic of
the city and country in which we live, from the Downtown Eastside in
Vancouver to the fringes of Moss Park in Toronto.

Mostly, I think, it's about discouraging young people from going down
that road before they become hollow-eyed wretches, panhandling - or
selling their bodies - because they need, need, need.

Removing even the frayed leash of illegality is so irrationally and
illogically the wrong message for society to send.

I'll catch you when you fall, but I won't lure you to the edge. That's
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt