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Ideology trumps evidence: Conservative drug policy

Insite sign InSite is the only supervised drug injection site in North America, and it’s located in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

Insite is supported by a broad range of organizations and individuals including the City of Vancouver, the Province of British Columbia, Vancouver Coastal Health, Premier Gordon Campbell, Minister David Emerson, Senator Larry Campbell, Vancouver Police Chief Jamie Graham, Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan, former Vancouver Mayor Phillip Owen, injection drug users, community groups, local businesses, academic institutions and others.”

In order to legally continue its work after the end of the month, Insite needs an extension of its exemption from the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. The BC Supreme Court recently ruled that Insite should get this extension because it provides a vital health care service which is protected under the Charter.

But the Harper government does not like Insite and plans to appeal the Court’s ruling.

AddictNever mind that the research clearly supports the program. Never mind that it has led to a reduction in crime and a 45% reduction in open drug use in the area. Never mind that there is a 33% increase in the use of addiction treatment as a result of contact with InSite. Or that it saves lives. Or that it even saves money while saving lives.

No. The Harper government, in its profoundly simple view, wants to base Canada’s drug policy on its own simplistic ideology: drugs are bad, therefore drug programs are bad. Screw the evidence. Screw the wisdom and experience and knowledge of all the front-line workers, health care professionals and researchers who know infinitely more about addictions than Conservative politicians would ever want to know. The only thing that matters is that this government has the power and the will to inflict its own ideology on everybody else.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a rally attended by so few members of the general public and so many Members of Parliament. Among others, Libby Davies, Hedy Fry, and Ken Dryden spoke in favour of allowing InSite to keep saving lives.

The InSite campaign is a powerful one.

InSite crosses at Parliament HillThey enlisted the help of those of us in attendance to help unload a U-Haul they’d driven to Ottawa from Vancouver. It was full of wooden crosses. While listening to various renditions of Amazing Grace over the loudspeakers, we set up the crosses right in front of the Peace Tower – rows and rows and rows of hundreds and hundreds of crosses.

I thought maybe the crosses represented the number of addicts who died each year. But it turned out that each cross represented a person who did not die of an overdose because their overdose took place at the InSite facility. There have been over 800 overdoses at InSite, but because it’s staffed by health care professionals, not one person died.

The photographs were the most moving part of the event for me. All of the photographs were provided by users of InSite’s services: photographs of themselves as children, before they became addicted to drugs. The slogan is “Before they were ‘junkies’ they were kids.”

Kids and cops

Before they were junkies, they were kidsWe can lose our children so quickly and easily to drugs. It’s disturbing how dehumanizing we can collectively be towards addicts. I think that the Harper government’s efforts to shut down InSite, and the City of Ottawa’s attempts to shut down the crack kit program, are both examples of this dehumanization. Harm reduction programs don’t seem unreasonable when you think of addicts as human beings. I imagine if you’re the parent of an addict, harm reduction programs represent the hope that your child will survive until she can quit.

Before they were junkies, they were kids

The bottom line is that InSite saves lives and provides addicts with access to health care professionals. I don’t think anybody can look at the evidence and dispute that fact. More likely, I think, is that Conservative politicians dispute that addicts’ lives are, in fact, worth saving.


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