December 13th, 2018

What are we doing wrong?

By Medicine Hat News Opinon on August 11, 2018.

In recent years we have been hearing a lot about a growing opioid crisis. Increasing numbers of people are getting addicted to these substances either through abuse or misuse of prescription medications or through experimentation with these deadly substances on the street. Hundreds are dying every year from overdosing largely on illegally produced forms of these drugs that are brought into this country by criminal elements, mainly from Asia and Mexico. They are then distributed by criminal elements in this country.

The risk to customers is high but the rewards to the criminal are substantial. Although not everyone becomes addicted through their own bad judgment, many do in spite of the proliferation of warnings that we hear in every form of media. It also shows that humans are not excluded when it comes to Darwin’s theories.

We have chosen to provide safe injection sites for addicts to feed their addictions under supervision so that they can reduce the risk of an overdose and be close to assistance should something go wrong. We do this at considerable expense to the taxpayer and we get minimal reward for our efforts. Our effort is rewarded only when the occasional addict reaches rock bottom and chooses to subject himself to treatment and make an effort to withdraw from these addictive substances. This approach to the problem is based on the assertion that addiction is a medical problem and that these addicts should be treated like anyone else with medical problem. It makes one wonder why we do not support diabetic medical expenses to the same level. The real question is, how effective is this approach in tackling the substantive issue and the source of the problem.

This approach does not go very far in reducing the number of people who are addicted. It does not reduce the demand for these substances to be imported to or manufactured in this country. It does not reduce the crime that addicts commit daily to support their habit. It only increases the crime as the numbers of addicted people increase. This approach does nothing to ease the demand on first responders to that crime and to the medical issues that ensue. Most of all, it does little to actually treat the addict.

Anyone who has raised children or watched even a few episodes of the Dr. Phil show knows that the worst thing that anyone can do for someone who has problems is to reward their bad behaviour or enable them in any way to continue that bad behaviour. Safe injection sites do just that. We ignore the law by allowing possession and use of these illegal substances and we continue to allow harm to the individual taking the drugs. We spend a lot of money to do this. That is money that could be better spent in treating and rehabilitating these people, even if it is while they are forcibly incarcerated for their crimes.

We do not need to have less compassion for these folks just because they are in the criminal justice system but they do need to be held accountable for their mistakes and need to be given a little “tough love.” They need to know that the behaviour is not acceptable and that they must deal with the consequences of their current behaviour and past mistakes. We have legal means to incarcerate most of these people when they break the law. What we still need is the right facility, staffed with the proper people, to guide these people through withdrawal and then treatment. I know that not every case will be successful but at least we would have done the right thing by offering a hand up to these people rather than contributing to their downfall through enabling and misdirected sympathy.

The actual money spent on such a facility would likely be more than we currently spend on safe injection sites but there would be a significant reduction in the overall cost to society in the long run. There would be less crime committed by those seeking means to pay for drugs. There would be less demand on emergency services and less impact on those areas of our communities where these addicts gather. There would be less demand for these illegal substances which would divert valuable law enforcement resources. Most of all there would be fewer lives lost and more formerly addicted citizens could become productive members of society.

What we are doing is the easy way out and we need to look more to the root of the problem and stop doing what feels good.

Paul McLennan moved to Alberta more than 20 years ago as a member of the RCMP. He remained in Alberta after retirement in 2002, taught driving part time and settled in Medicine Hat in 2011.

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