Vancouver MPs say harm reduction fight with Ottawa has never been more fierce

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Crass, callous, and  unethical are three words the federal representative for Vancouver Centre uses to describe a Conservative Party website attacking supervised injection facilities like Insite.

“Addiction should be treated as a medical problem,” Liberal MP Dr. Hedy Fry told the Straight. “There is absolutely no reason that politicians should be putting their heavy hands into clinical decisions….I think that this is ideology.”

The website, titled “Keep heroin out of our backyards”, asks citizens to support new requirements for the approval of supervised injection facilities. It’s part of a new Conservative re-election strategy, according to a February 10, 2014, report in the Toronto Star.

“Special interests are trying to open up these supervised drug consumption sites in cities and towns across Canada,” the website states in an inaccurate reference to regional health authorities.

Fry characterized the campaign—which consists of a number of sites delivering similar messages against harm reduction programs—as the latest example of Ottawa’s determined interference in Vancouver’s approaches to addiction.

Another instance, Fry said, is the Respect for Communities Act, which she argued is an attempt to raise the regulatory bar for supervised injection facilities so high that it would effectively ensure a place like Insite never receives Ottawa’s approval again.

A third is federal opposition to the SALOME trial, Fry continued. In that experimental program, a small group of Vancouver patients severely addicted to heroin and for whom methadone has proven an ineffective form of treatment is administered controlled doses of diacetylmorphine (prescription heroin).

“Once we start talking about government and politicians overruling evidence and overruling public policy that has proven to work in many places over a course of time, what we have is ideology interfering in people’s lives,” Fry argued.

The federal Conservative Party did not respond to a request for an interview. Sara Lauer, a spokesperson for Health Canada, said that an interview on the topic of harm reduction would not be granted unless questions were submitted in advance (something that the Straight does not do).

Libby Davies, opposition health critic and NDP MP for Vancouver East, told the Straight that Vancouver has always led the way on harm reduction in Canada, which means the city has often had to battle the federal government on new health-care programs that aren’t always properly understood.

Davies noted that the debate on facilities like Insite is essentially over for Vancouver. For example, an application recently filed by a West End clinic hoping to become North America’s second legal supervised injection site includes letters of support signed by Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson and the city’s chief of police. In addition, B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake has voiced support for the SALOME prescription heroin trial. But, Davies continued, the West Coast’s fight with Ottawa is actually worse than it’s ever been.

“We’re now dealing with a Conservative government that makes decisions based on a partisan political belief rather than on evidence,” she explained. “That is a fundamental flaw and contrary to good decision making that permeates almost everything here in Ottawa.”

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Bela Bugliosi

Feb 19, 2014 at 7:14am

But Harper knows how to play Beatles songs. That trumps reason and common sense every time.

Tech42

Feb 19, 2014 at 3:08pm

Considering that addiction is a medical condition, can we have those politicians involved in creating laws concerning it charged with practicing medicine without a license?

Adam J

Feb 19, 2014 at 3:47pm

Drug addicts are our brothers, sisters, sons and daughters. They suffer from mental and physical illnesses. They need our help, not our moral judgement, hatred or apathy.
Tax dollars are being spent EVERY DAY to arrest and jail these people, as well as for emergency medical treatment for overdoses, and expensive long-term treatment for diseases like AIDS and Hepatitis C. If there are ways to lower these costs by providing supervised injections, detox and treatment facilities, and even free drugs, then yes, we should do it.

cuz

Feb 19, 2014 at 6:07pm

@Tech42, While addiction might be a medical condition, it is one that is taken on voluntarily. Hard to digest I know. And believe me, I DO KNOW!!! I was an addict for over ten years. I got real tired of people telling me that I was powerless to control it. All that talk was bullsh*t. If I wasn't going to control it, who was? So one day I got up and made the CHOICE that I wasn't going to let my addictions control my life. So I threw away my dealer's number, dumped all my "friends", including those who supposedly wanted to help, but who actually kept me locked in my addiction. I locked the door, crawled into the corner and cried and shivered for a week. Finally, I got up and walked out the door into a bright sunshine and a bright future. NO THANKS TO ALL THE POVERTY INDUSTRY TYPES. When you coddle an addict, you are doing exactly what he wants. You are letting his emotions and needs dictate your response to him. When you tell him that his addiction isn't his fault, you are taking away his personal power. There a lot of people in Van who make a good living off the poverty business. They need to be told to get lost. If your child was lost in the DTES, would you encourage him to get a clean needle, or would you encourage him to get the hell out of there?? BC Costal Health describes enabling as doing ANYTHING that encourages an addict to stay addicted.
I fully expect all the poverty pimps to jump on me, but if even one of you can honestly answer and tell me how Insite is not enabling, please tell me.
ENABLING IS NOT COMPASSION!!!

10 years sober

Feb 19, 2014 at 6:13pm

Addiction is an illness. I am a recovering alcoholic/addict who has been clean and sober for almost 10 years. The answer to addiction is not harm reduction, it's abstinence based programs. I would not be sober today, living a meaningful and productive life, if I had been given public resources to help support my crystal meth habit.
Hedy & Liby: neither of you have a f**king clue what you're talking about.
...Thanks for the link to the Conservative website - I just signed.

Evidence based

Feb 20, 2014 at 2:07am

There really is no debate as to the effectiveness of harm reduction.It works. The science is solid and the ideas have been proven to be true in study after study. Many in the 12 step crowd don't like this because it runs counter to what they have been taught.

I would encourage anyone interested to read Stanton Peele, and Gabor Maté.

Ella Jean

Feb 20, 2014 at 3:14am

I look forward to signing my name and showing my support, in, "Keeping heroin out of our backyards". I wonder how INSITES claims of harm reduction work and apply when a JOBLESS NON TAXPAUYING disease infested junkie pulls and pokes/stabs a dirty needle in to the body of an innocent TAXPAYING citizen, all in order to get their (drug) fix safely at INSITE. INSITE is such a farcy, brainless, double standard !. Its all smoke and mirrors for all of the misguided bleeding heart do gooders. Same with the 25 cent crack pipe vending machine program, who the hell are these do gooders fooling ?. As I recall in my dark days of addiction, my limits and boundaries were slim to none, being offered the right amount of drugs or money, I SHARED MY CRACKPIPES !. Just for the record free crack pipes have been given away to addicts for YEARS !. I remember getting them in the 90's. Save the MILLIONS of dollars WASTED on these types of perpetuating programs, not to mention the newly announced program showing die hard alcoholics how to make their OWN booze, and build housing and better regulated RECOVERY PROGRAMS.

Bela Bugliosi

Feb 20, 2014 at 7:09am

Hey cuz/10 years sober/Ella Jean... are you sure you're not still addicted to something?

Maybe anger, willful ignorance or something the doctor said you needed real bad. You kinda sound like you would fit in perfectly with the Harpercrites.

Benjamin Michael

Feb 20, 2014 at 8:12am

Having worked in addictions for the better part of a decade (I guess that makes me a bleeding heart do-gooder) I can tell you that programs like this are necessary. There is no "one-size fits all" approach to tackling individual addiction challenges. I have worked in programs where we used an abstinence approach and programs where we used a harm reduction approach. For some individuals abstinence works, programs Like AA and NA can be successful for people. However, in MY experiences this typically (of course not 100% of the time) is in the case where an individual had structural supports (i.e. housing, supportive family/peers, employment etc.). For others harm reduction has been successful... now does this mean that the person will eventually stop using? no, but, they will require less hospital visits, less police interventions and require less provincially funded medications for associated diseases like Hep C or HIV. (even the right-leaning can appreciate how this can be fiscally responsible).

Not everyone is given a fair hand in life, the prevalence of concurrent disorders - that is mental health coupled with addiction, is staggering. Thus, it is important to view these individuals within their own personal social and historical context. Yes, using is a choice, its hard to debate that. However, for an individual whose reasoning is affected by mental health, extreme poverty/homelessness, trauma etc. the word "choice" takes on a different meaning.

So, we can sit back and criticize the "poverty industry" or the "bleeding heart do-gooders" or we can invest in programs like this and maybe at least one less "addict" won't die in the streets with a needle in their arm. (I understand the last sentence is dramatic, but its a grim reality for some).

RUK

Feb 20, 2014 at 10:23am

@cuz

Harm reduction is 'enabling' in the very real sense that it is about making it easier to fix. You're right.

But what are the benefits?

To me, one of the big benefits is that it encourages people who are quite likely to be criminally involved and therefore habitually anti-authority to approach and hopefully develop some sort of trusting relationship with health care professionals - to become part of "the system."

From there, it is conceivable that your hard-core addict might learn about different kinds of rehab and other treatments, alternatives to trying to kick on your own.

(Kicking on your own is a very heroic thing to do. Unfortunately not many people are very heroic.)

It's a point of connection, in other words.

Is this always going to be controversial and morally ambiguous? I think so. But the alternative - not having harm reduction - seems at least equally cruel to me, and along the lines of wishful thinking.

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