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

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.”

Comments (21) Add New Comment
Bela Bugliosi
But Harper knows how to play Beatles songs. That trumps reason and common sense every time.
Rating: +26
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?
Rating: +24
Adam J
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.
Rating: +19
@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.
Rating: -21
10 years sober
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.
Rating: -20
Evidence based
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.
Rating: +11
Ella Jean
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.
Rating: -4
Bela Bugliosi
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.
Rating: +4
Benjamin Michael
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).
Rating: +18

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.
Rating: +14
10yrs sober
@ bela bugliosi
Nope, not addicted to anything… 100% free of ingesting any mood altering substances that would otherwise be used to alter my current state of consciousness - I don't think I can get any more specific then that.
I'm certainly not ignorant either and I'm heavily involved too… within the community of recovery and with the leaders of this province.
You're right about one thing tho - I am angry, angry at the attempts to be manipulated into the delusion that harm reduction is a solution.
Harm reduction programs are only popular because they are cheap and easy, there is a measurable trade off from the health care system, they make people instantly feel good by helping others (which is selfish btw), and they let addicts do what they do best - use.
Abstinence based recovery does everything that harm reduction attempts to do (and more) the same can't be said the other way around.
Rating: -12
We need to start looking at these people, the key word there being, PEOPLE, with compassion. not coddle, but not kicked to the curb either, clean up their health, but not kiss their clean behind, offer options, rather than just arrest. Utah is becoming a leader in America on how to treat the homeless, maybe examine the results, as an example of how this concept works. Not everyone graduates from high School, by the way, so why would we expect everyone to pass the addiction test, what I mean is there are always people who are not successful at programs...of any kind. Why are our expectations for success so high, in a population that is already struggling with disease, malnutrition, self worth levels that are so toxic....are you getting the picture. OK, if my son falls in that rut, no money, no drugs, but I will drag him home, feed him, get him to the gym, clean and reintroduce him to his kids and give him an opportunity to change his life, and give him all the love I can..after that he will need to make all his choices and do what he has to do..when I was a bus driver in Vancouver, I started in 1980, 41st & Oak, I ran a lot of Main/Robson, Fraser/Davie, Hastings, Powell, etc, however, saw a lot of junkies, (pardon the term), can't really remember 1 where I thought getting arrested, and going to jail, was the cure. Might get them off the street, and fed, but no cures happening there, working the street one way or the other the next chance they got. LOVE cures...not short term BS, real honest genuine LOVE of other people, that last forever, not everyone has it, many believe it to be a sign of weakness even. I got lot of dirty looks in my day as a driver, but nobody got left standing in the rain, because they didn't have money. The first time I did that, told him to get on, I don't care if you have money, the look on his face. I'll never forget, over the years I could the change when I saw him, he looked healthy, put on weight, smiled. One day on Davie Street, he got on the bus, got down on his knees and said "Thank you, for showing me kindness, you changed my life, I have been clean now for 2 years, and I am going home" got off the bus, walked away, and I never saw him again. I couldn't drive the bus for 10 minutes, in the middle of rush hour, no one seemed to mind the brief wait. don't tell me LOVE doesn't work, LOVE your fellow man/woman, today.
Rating: -4
10yrs sober
@evidence based.
The effectiveness of harm reduction is debatable - I'm debating it right now.
It is not effective to teach someone how to shoot up, provide them with needles, easy access to drugs as well as food, shelter and money.
All that does is enable and perpetuate the cycle of addiction - there is no incentive to get sober when life as an addict is so comfortable.
The best cure for addiction is like ripping off a bandaid - stop using, detox, change everything, and then learn a new way of coping with life with the healthy support of others.
The DTES receives approximately $300 million dollars a year from various funding sources - all of that money goes into free food, free housing, free needles/pipes etc...In fact a person can hop from place to place … getting free meals and other supplies…. & never hit up the same place twice over a week. The DTES has the highest concentration of social services and programs of anywhere in the world… How is any of that effective?
Rating: -6
10yrs sober
@ benjamin michael
I've been in recovery for a decade & I've been suffering from addiction for a lot longer then that.
If you give an practising addict what they want, you're just feeding their addiction, not helping them.
Im also what you would call having concurrent disorders...In your eyes, not given a fair hand in life. perhaps that's true - but nothing that I've said here requires sympathy.
Recovery is an inside job.
Rating: -10
Mordor is getting stronger everyday..leaglize cannabis : helps! its a very positive plant! yes, drug addicted persons have rights medically…just ask the nazis?
Rating: -1
Peter Williams
Let’s use harm reduction to address the problem of theft. First let’s buy a bunch of flat screen TV, ipads and SUV and keep them in a poorly locked building. Instead of thieves breaking into people’s houses, we will encourage them to break into the “Safe Stealing Site” and just help themselves. This is harm reduction because it prevents dangerous fights between thieves and with angry home owners as they try to defend their stuff. There are no dangerous police chases through the streets as they pursue thieves. You get the idea. It is harm reduction, yes, but the idea is also absolutely crazy and devoid of common sense. Here’s my point; there is no difference between what I have just described and Insite.
Rating: -10
Peter Williams

Your point proceeds from a highly dubious premise, which is that theft and shooting up are similar crimes. They are readily distinguishable crimes.

The victim of theft is not the thief. The victim of shooting up is the addict.

The thief has a clear practical motivation in that the stolen goods can be used by himself or converted into cash to purchase goods and selves, whereas the addict obtains no tangible benefit and indeed suffers neurological damage.

Rating: -11
10 years sober
Something is either legal or illegal… there is no grey area on that fact.
The act of shooting up isn't actually a crime either… possession & distribution are crimes but not the act of injecting oneself.
Addicts are not victims.
Rating: +307
Peter Williams
RUK - my point is that applying harm reduction for theft actually could reduce harm. It really could, there could be lots of evidence based studies proving this. But common sense tells us that isn't a good a solution. Whether the action is a crime or not is not really relevant.

To complete my analogy, every penny spent on a "Safe Stealing Site" would be a penny taken away from preventing crime. And every penny spent on harm reduction is a penny taken away from detox and programs that would help people break their addictions.
Rating: +1
really ?
I have been in recovery for 17 or 18 years I quit counting as being an addict. was not something I needed to serve as an identity. I am just another human being. I have worked in the DTES for 12 of those. of those years. really feel sorry for Mr ten year if you have ten years in the " Program " and the only tool you have learned is beat people over the head with the big book. I would suggest you practice the principal of Openmindedness that I believe they still read in every meeting. Addiction is complicated and many approaches are needed. As the Bus driver put so eloquently treat people with kindess dignity and compassion you never no what will happen. Judge people tell them you know what they need better then they do well the results speak for themselves. just look at the Lancet and any other studies that empirically show Harm Reduction works. Yes I believe there should be detox on demand but also wet houses, Seaton house with a managed Allcohol program saves the city of Toronto 12 millon dollars in a reductio in emergency services.
Rating: -3


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