Toronto Mike

Humanity and Sanity Reign Supreme: Drug Addiction is a Health Issue


Eight years ago this month, I wrote about drug addition and Vancouver's Insite clinic.  Let's revisit that entry...

September 15, 2003 @ 21:38

Today marked the official opening of North America's first legal safe-injection site at 139 East Hastings St. in Vancouver, B.C.  It will be staffed by 16 nurses, four alcohol and drug counsellors and peer counsellors.  At the injection site, addicts get clean needles and inject themselves at small booths in a room supervised by a nurse. After shooting up, they go to a "chill-out room" before returning to the streets. Up to 800 people are expected to use the facility each day.

Already upset over Ottawa's plan to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, this facility has been criticized by U.S. officials who say it is an example of Canada becoming lax in the battle against illegal drugs.  Once again, the needle's point has been missed.
Those addicted to heroin are sufferers of a dehabilitating disease. Many will overdose and die. Up to 40 percent of these addicts have HIV or AIDS and 90 percent have hepatitis C.  Allowing people to inject in a clean place and with ready access to medical help will reduce the spread of these diseases and dramatically reduce accidental overdose deaths.  This isn't about legalizing heroin and crack, this is about saving lives. "It is not I who become addicted, it is my body." - Jean Cocteau

At the time I wrote that entry, the political pressure against this site was coming from the United States.  Jean Chrétien's Liberal Party was in power here, and Stephen Harper was Leader of the Opposition.  His Canadian Alliance party had not yet united with the Progressive Conservative Party.

Stephen Harper's  Conservative Party eventually gained power and Harper sought to end Insite's special exemption from prosecution.  Today, in a unanimous decision that brings me great joy, the Supreme Court of Canada has ordered the federal government to stop interfering with Vancouver’s Insite clinic.  This opens the door to supervised drug injection clinics across the country.

This may not stop them from using the way heroin treatment options are supposed to, but at least it would reduce the harm caused by injecting the drug.

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice McLachlin said that addicts are extremely sick individuals whose urgent need frequently leads to them inject drugs with dirty needles after dissolving narcotics in dirty puddle water.
She noted that by 1993, 200 people were dying annually in the Downtown Eastside. Numerous others were contracting AIDS/HIV or other serious illnesses from their drug activities.
Serious drug addiction is not a moral choice; it is an illness which essentially negates the notion of “choice” altogether, Chief Justice McLachlin said. She said that adopting a moral attitude toward an addict's “choices” – as the federal government did – was simply the wrong approach to take.
“On future applications, the Minister must exercise that discretion within the constraints imposed by the law and the Charter, aiming to strike the appropriate balance between achieving public health and public safety,” the Court said in a 9-0 ruling.

Indeed, drug addiction is a health issue.  Insite saves lives, with immense benefits that are irrefutable.  As a compassionate, humane and sensible nation, we should build more safe injection sites across this country, and less jails.

Thank you, Supreme Court of Canada.  You did it again.

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