Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Bad Rae Day

Bob Rae was interviewed on CKNW news talk radio in Vancouver the other day. I was driving, and missed the first part of the interview, but I think he really missed an opportunity to clearly communicate a progressive, but sensible policy on drug addiction and drug abuse. To be fair, he hit one some of the major themes - that drug addiction is a healthcare problem and needs to be addressed as such, through mental health and public health programs rather than solely treating it as a crime.

When asked if he would support a supervised safe injection site in the Greater Toronto Area, Rae was very quick to respond with an "absolutely yes". He went on to mention that "war on drugs" approach followed south of the border has not worked, and that drug use should be decriminalized. In my view his response at best missed the mark, and at worst, is vulnerable to the "soft on crime" messaging that plays so well with conservatives.

InSite is not about decriminalization. Let me be clear. Use of scheduled drugs is still illegal in Vancouver. InSite has an Ministerial Exemption under Section 56 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act that allows the administration of scheduled drugs for scientific and research purposes. These drugs are not decriminalized nor is production, sales or distribution of drugs decriminalized.

More importantly, InSite does not operate as an isolated program divorced from other healthcare and social services programs. Supervised injection, is one instance of a fairly broad harm reduction program (others include needle exchange programs, distribution of bleach kits, condoms, and education on transmission of infectious diseases, etc.) in Vancouver, that is a component of the City's "Four Pillars" approach to reducing drug related crime and harm in the city. Harm reduction is one pillar, the other three pillars are treatment, prevention and law enforcement.

The important messaging about InSite is not decriminalization. In fact, law enforcement is one of the four pillars. While many Canadians might support decriminalization of marijuana, I doubt that many would support the decriminalization of heroine, methamphetamine, barbituates, cocaine, etc. Safe injection is about harm reduction not decriminalization.

The progressive response to the question "would you support a safe injection site in Toronto" should be:
Supervised, safe injection as a method of harm reduction can be an effective component in the reduction of drug addiction, crime and the associated social and public health problems if it is combined with treatment, prevention and law enforcement. Outside of an integrated approach such as Vancouver's "Four Pillars" approach, an isolated safe injection site in Toronto is not advised.

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