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Addictions

‘Harm Reduction’ is killing B.C.’s addicts. There’s got to be a better way

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From the Frontier Centre for Public Policy

By Susan Martinuk 

B.C. recently decriminalized the possession of small amounts of illicit drugs. The resulting explosion of addicts using drugs in public spaces, including parks and playgrounds, recently led the province’s NDP government to attempt to backtrack on this policy

Since 2016, more than 40,000 Canadians have died from opioid drug overdoses — almost as many as died during the Second World War.
Governments, health care professionals and addiction experts all acknowledge that widespread use of opioids has created a public health crisis in Canada. Yet they agree on virtually nothing else about this crisis, including its causes, possible remedies and whether addicts should be regarded as passive victims or accountable moral agents.

Fuelled by the deadly manufactured opioid fentanyl, Canada’s national drug overdose rate stood at 19.3 people per 100,000 in 2022, a shockingly high number when compared to the European Union’s rate of just 1.8. But national statistics hide considerable geographic variation. British Columbia and Alberta together account for only a quarter of Canada’s population yet nearly half of all opioid deaths. B.C.’s 2022 death rate of 45.2/100,000 is more than double the national average, with Alberta close behind at 33.3/100,00.

In response to the drug crisis, Canada’s two western-most provinces have taken markedly divergent approaches, and in doing so have created a natural experiment with national implications.

B.C. has emphasized harm reduction, which seeks to eliminate the damaging effects of illicit drugs without actually removing them from the equation. The strategy focuses on creating access to clean drugs and includes such measures as “safe” injection sites, needle exchange programs, crack-pipe giveaways and even drug-dispensing vending machines. The approach goes so far as to distribute drugs like heroin and cocaine free of charge in the hope addicts will no longer be tempted by potentially tainted street drugs and may eventually seek help.

But safe-supply policies create many unexpected consequences. A National Post investigation found, for example, that government-supplied hydromorphone pills handed out to addicts in Vancouver are often re-sold on the street to other addicts. The sellers then use the money to purchase a street drug that provides a better high — namely, fentanyl.

Doubling down on safe supply, B.C. recently decriminalized the possession of small amounts of illicit drugs. The resulting explosion of addicts using drugs in public spaces, including parks and playgrounds, recently led the province’s NDP government to attempt to backtrack on this policy — though for now that effort has been stymied by the courts.

According to Vancouver city councillor Brian Montague, “The stats tell us that harm reduction isn’t working.” In an interview, he calls decriminalization “a disaster” and proposes a policy shift that recognizes the connection between mental illness and addiction. The province, he says, needs “massive numbers of beds in treatment facilities that deal with both addictions and long-term mental health problems (plus) access to free counselling and housing.”

In fact, Montague’s wish is coming true — one province east, in Alberta. Since the United Conservative Party was elected in 2019, Alberta has been transforming its drug addiction policy away from harm reduction and towards publicly-funded treatment and recovery efforts.

Instead of offering safe-injection sites and free drugs, Alberta is building a network of 10 therapeutic communities across the province where patients can stay for up to a year, receiving therapy and medical treatment and developing skills that will enable them to build a life outside the drug culture. All for free. The province’s first two new recovery centres opened last year in Lethbridge and Red Deer. There are currently over 29,000 addiction treatment spaces in the province.

This treatment-based strategy is in large part the work of Marshall Smith, current chief of staff to Alberta’s premier and a former addict himself, whose life story is a testament to the importance of treatment and recovery.

The sharply contrasting policies of B.C. and Alberta allow a comparison of what works and what doesn’t. A first, tentative report card on this natural experiment was produced last year in a study from Stanford University’s network on addiction policy (SNAP). Noting “a lack of policy innovation in B.C.,” where harm reduction has become the dominant policy approach, the report argues that in fact “Alberta is currently experiencing a reduction in key addiction-related harms.” But it concludes that “Canada overall, and B.C. in particular, is not yet showing the progress that the public and those impacted by drug addiction deserve.”

The report is admittedly an early analysis of these two contrasting approaches. Most of Alberta’s recovery homes are still under construction, and B.C.’s decriminalization policy is only a year old. And since the report was published, opioid death rates have inched higher in both provinces.

Still, the early returns do seem to favour Alberta’s approach. That should be regarded as good news. Society certainly has an obligation to try to help drug users. But that duty must involve more than offering addicts free drugs. Addicted people need treatment so they can kick their potentially deadly habit and go on to live healthy, meaningful lives. Dignity comes from a life of purpose and self-control, not a government-funded fix.

Susan Martinuk is a senior fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy and author of the 2021 book Patients at Risk: Exposing Canada’s Health Care Crisis. A longer version of this article recently appeared at C2CJournal.ca.

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Addictions

Liberal MP blasts Trudeau-backed ‘safe supply’ drug programs, linking them to ‘chaos’ in cities

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First responders in Ottawa dealing with a crisis                                           Fridayman 0102 / YouTube
From LifeSiteNews

By Clare Marie Merkowsky

‘There is certainly the perception by a lot of Canadians that a lot of downtown cores are basically out of control,’ Liberal MP Dr. Marcus Powlowski said, before pointing specifically to ‘safe supply’ drugs and injection sites.

A Liberal MP has seemingly taken issue with “safe supply” drug policies for increasing public disorder in Canada, policies his own party, under the leadership of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, has endorsed.

During an April 15 health committee meeting in the House of Commons, Liberal MP Dr. Marcus Powlowski, while pressing the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), stated that “safe supply” drug policies have caused Canadians to feel unsafe in downtown Ottawa and in other major cities across the country.

“There is certainly the perception by a lot of Canadians that a lot of downtown cores are basically out of control,” Powlowski said.  

“Certainly there is also the perception that around places like safe supply, safe injection sites, that things are worse, that there are people openly stoned in the street,” he continued.   

“People are getting cardio-pulmonary resuscitation performed on them in the street. There are needles around on the street. There is excrement on the street,” Powlowski added.  

Safe supply“ is the term used to refer to government-prescribed drugs that are given to addicts under the assumption that a more controlled batch of narcotics reduces the risk of overdose – critics of the policy argue that giving addicts drugs only enables their behavior, puts the public at risk, disincentivizes recovery from addiction and has not reduced, and sometimes even increased, overdose deaths where implemented.

Powlowski, who has worked as an emergency room physician, also stated that violence from drug users has become a problem in Ottawa, especially in areas near so-called “safe supply” drug sites which operate within blocks of Parliament Hill.   

“A few months ago I was downtown in a bar here in Ottawa, not that I do that very often, but a couple of colleagues I met up with, one was assaulted as he was going to the bar, another one was threatened,” said Powlowski. 

“Within a month of that I was returning down Wellington Street from downtown, the Rideau Centre, and my son who is 15 was coming after me,” he continued. “It was nighttime and there was someone out in the middle of the street, yelling and screaming, accosting cars.” 

Liberal MP Dr. Brendan Hanley, the Yukon’s former chief medical officer, testified in support of Powlowski, saying, “My colleague Dr. Powlowski described what it’s like to walk around downtown Ottawa here, and certainly when I walk home every day, I encounter similar circumstances.” 

“Do you agree this is a problem?” Powlowski pressed RCMP deputy commissioner Dwayne McDonald. “Do you agree for a lot of Canadians who are not involved with drugs, that they are increasingly unhappy with society in downtown cores which are this way? Do you want to do more about this, and if you do want to do more about this, what do you need?”  

McDonald acknowledged the issue but failed to offer a solution, responding, “One of the success factors required for decriminalization is public support.” 

“I think when you are faced with situations where, as we have experienced in our communities and we hear from our communities, where public consumption in some places may lead to other members of the public feeling at risk or threatened or vulnerable to street level crime, it does present a challenge,” he continued.   

Deaths from drug overdoses in Canada have gone through the roof in recent years, particularly in British Columbia after Trudeau’s federal government effectively decriminalized hard drugs in the province.

Under the policy, which launched in early 2023, the federal government began allowing people within the province to possess up to 2.5 grams of hard drugs without criminal penalty, but selling drugs remained a crime.  

The policy has been widely criticized, especially after it was found that the province broke three different drug-related overdose records in the first month the new law was in effect.  

The effects of decriminalizing hard drugs in various parts of Canada has been exposed in Aaron Gunn’s recent documentary, Canada is Dying, and in U.K. Telegraph journalist Steven Edginton’s mini-documentary, Canada’s Woke Nightmare: A Warning to the West.  

Gunn says he documents the “general societal chaos and explosion of drug use in every major Canadian city.”  

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Addictions

Ontario and Saskatchewan join Alberta’s approach to opioid recovery

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The governments of Alberta, Ontario and Saskatchewan are establishing a partnership to build systems of care focused on recovery.

On April 3 and 4, 2024, the eighth annual Recovery Capital Conference of Canada in Calgary welcomed nearly 2,000 delegates from Alberta, across Canada and around the world. A major focus of the conference was the Alberta Recovery Model—the system of care that Alberta’s government is building to provide treatment and recovery support for people living with mental health and addiction challenges.

Ministers responsible for mental health and addiction in Alberta, Ontario and Saskatchewan have agreed to collaborate on building systems of care that focus on recovery. This highlights the importance of breaking down barriers and increasing access to recovery-oriented care, sharing best practices, advancing partnerships with Indigenous communities, and advocating to the federal government for investment and policies that support recovery.

“We are eager to share the Alberta Recovery Model because we believe it is the most dignified, comprehensive and compassionate approach in any jurisdiction across Canada to help people overcome their mental health challenges and recover from the deadly disease of addiction. I look forward to seeing what this partnership brings as we work together with other provinces on building a system of care that focuses on recovery.”

Dan Williams, Minister of Mental Health and Addiction

“Saskatchewan is focused on helping people overcome addictions and live healthy, safe lives in recovery. Under our Action Plan for Mental Health and Addictions, we are doubling capacity to make addictions treatment more available and accessible, and transitioning to a Recovery-Oriented System of Care to better care for patients. By helping people overcome addictions, we can save lives, heal families and strengthen our communities.”

Tim McLeod, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, Seniors and Rural and Remote Health, Saskatchewan

“Through our Roadmap to Wellness, Ontario is making unprecedented investments to ensure that those in our province struggling with mental health or addictions challenges get the care they need, when and where they need it. I look forward to working in closer collaboration with my colleagues from Alberta and Saskatchewan to build systems of care that prioritize recovery and help more people break free from addiction.”

Michael Tibollo, Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, Ontario

This partnership is a step forward in working with and learning from other provinces on policies that bring meaningful and lasting change to those suffering from the deadly disease of addiction, or who are facing mental health challenges.

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