Safe injection sites

National Affairs Rory Leishman

National Affairs Rory Leishman

For the past year, headlines across Canada have tracked a shocking increase in deaths from overdoses of illicit opioids. The final count for 2016 in British Columbia could reach close to 900; that is up more than 70 per cent over 2015 and twice the annual death toll in the province from traffic accidents.

For Canada as a whole, the annual number of drug-overdose deaths is approximately 2,000. What can be done about this escalating national crisis?

On December 12, federal Health Minister Jane Philpott announced that within the framework of a new Canada Drugs and Substances Strategy, the Trudeau Liberals will expedite the proliferation of “supervised consumption sites” to provide drug abusers with clean needles for injecting themselves with illicit drugs under the direction of medical personnel poised to treat overdoses. In addition, the federal Liberals have authorized physicians across Canada to prescribe pure heroin for recalcitrant addicts.

Conservative health critic Colin Carrie maintains that as a means of reducing harm, such measures are futile: He explains: “Our policy is to take heroin out of the hands of addicts and not put it in their arms.”

In contrast, British Columbia’s Liberal Health Minister Terry Lake supports the new federal strategy. After the province’s death toll from drug overdoses during 2016 had already surpassed 210 last April, he declared a health emergency and defied the existing federal drug law, by taking immediate action to multiply the number of supervised consumption sites.

Today, there are no fewer than 18 such sites in British Columbia. Yet in the meantime, the death toll from drug overdoses in the province has continued to escalate. Therefore, it is demonstrably evident that while these sites can save the lives of some addicts for a while, this approach can do little, if anything, to curtail the overall death toll from illegal drugs.

In a desperate search for some effective remedy, British Columbia Premier Christie Clark announced on September 28 that her government would supplement its efforts to “stem this epidemic on our streets,” and to “protect our children,” by allocating $5 million to a new British Columbia Centre on Substance Use. Dr. Evan Wood, professor of medicine at the University of British Columbia and head of the university’s Addiction Medicine Education Program, is the interim director of the new Centre. Like most addiction experts, he insists that drug addiction is best treated as “a disease that has traditionally faced huge barriers due to stigma.”

Sally Satel and Scott Lilienfeld, addiction specialists respectively at Yale University and Tufts University, disagree with this viewpoint. In Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience, they persuasively argue that addiction to illegal drugs or to any other harmful substance is a mental disorder, but not a disease of the brain similar to Alzheimer’s and other neurological conditions. Among other considerations, these authors point out that it would be cruel and futile for anyone to try to treat a genuine brain disease like Alzheimer’s, by compelling patients to change their behavior through an exercise of the will.

In contrast, Satel and Lilienfeld cite the remarkable success of specialized drug-treatment courts in salvaging the lives of criminal addicts, by alternatively bribing and coercing them into undergoing prolonged treatment for drug addiction as a condition for avoiding a lengthy jail sentence. However, these judicially enforced treatment programs are hugely expensive and most operate on only a small scale. The Vancouver Drug Treatment Court has been able to assist only 196 offenders during its first 10 years.

Establishing enough drug treatment courts across Canada to meet the needs of the soaring number of criminal addicts would run into hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars a year. At least, though, there is solid evidence that this approach to combatting drug addiction works – something that cannot be said for the so-called harm-reduction strategy of the Trudeau government that relies on multiplying supervised consumption sites and prescribing pure heroin to addicts at taxpayers’ expense.

Even so, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his “progressive” colleagues on the federal and provincial levels deserve credit for at least trying, no matter how ineffectively, to prevent several thousand pathetic addicts from killing themselves each year with drug overdoses.

Note, though, the appalling irony: While these politicians can readily recognize that the lives of even abject dope addicts are worth preserving, the great majority of these same legislators are perversely determined to promote, rather than to curtail, the deliberate and callous mass slaughter in the womb each year of close to 100,000 entirely innocent Canadian babies.

Such grotesque moral inconsistency is irrational, illogical and profoundly tragic injection sites

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