30 March 2005

Is Canada the new Netherlands?

For decades, the Netherlands (in particular, Amsterdam) has been thought of as the place to go for a laissez-faire attitude toward drug use. It now appears that Canada is the place to be. Sure, the left coast has always been known for producing good product and even selling it cafe-style... but with safe injection sites and needle exchanges in Vancouver and now the news that Ottawa is going to distribute free crack pipe kits, it seems like harder drugs are being legitimized.

Of course, officials insist it is to stop the spread of disease (HIV, Hep.C and other blood-bourne diseases). Will it work? Maybe. Should it? I'm not sure. The only thing I have ever been truly addicted to is caffeine so I can't really understand the levels of addiction at play with hard drugs -- there would never be a time when I would need caffeine so desperately that I would risk my own life or the lives of those around me. Even when I was drinking ridiculously large amounts of alcohol (the year I was in England) there was never a time I did anything other than pay money in order to get booze.

I just question the sense in prolonging the lives of people who are miserably addicted to hard drugs without making any apparent effort to wean them of the addiction (to be fair, the SIS does make some effort, but needle exchanges and distributing drug paraphanalia does not). It generates the same uneasiness I feel whenever government or medical sciences step into the life-saving arena in a way that goes above and beyond what the gods might actually do. (Dare I mention the current maelstrom in Florida?)

I wonder what will happen if the Conservatives win the next Federal election. Or for that matter if a greater percentage of NDP members were elected... Hmm.


Tim said...

Well, the "harm reduction model" you're describing only makes any sense if there are other programs also at work, providing housing and social supports (i.e. psychiatric) for people in rehab. I would hazard that 9/10 junkies are almost entirely isolated from functioning society. The problem is that no strategy of treating a symptom is ever going to make the problem go away. Spend money on rehab and needle exchanges, spend money on increased policing and imprisonment, or let them run free like wild animals -- no matter what choice we make, they're going to be around as long as our society is in the form it presently has.

Z├ęzette said...

The issue of needles exchanges is really quite separate to the question of addiction or the "moral" aspects of illicit drug use. Australia implemented needle exchange as soon as it became clear that HIV was a serious health threat, and as a consequence has one of the lowest infection rates in the world, particularly amongst injecting drug users. I don't see that a lack of other support measures should mean that exchanges are not worth implementing. Are "all" or "nothing" really the only choices available? At what point is the support considered comprehensive? Of course, the roots of an addiction can go right back to childhood abuse and so on; do these all need to be addressed before we can consider the simpler steps worthwhile?

As well as the obvious benefits, exchanges have a secondary function of being a central point for education and other support programs, a means of effectively targetting a group which would otherwise be extremely difficult to reach. So, rather than being just one small aspect of dealing with drug use I would argue that it's a primary and central step in tackling the immensely complex broader issues.

I'd also make the point that needle usage is not limited to the cliched "fucked up junkie"; there are plenty of people who inject -- a variety of substances -- on a recreational basis whilst living regular, functional lives.

Cheryl said...

Damnit. See? Clearly I can only talk out of my ass.

Z├ęzette said...

Sorry; upon re-reading my comments seem a little pointy, so to speak. After working in an organisation with a needle exchange for several years it's a pet subject, is all. :)