Wednesday, October 17, 2007

DRUG POLICY Editorial The wrong way to go

The wrong way to go
413 words
3 October 2007
The Globe and Mail
2007 CTVglobemedia Publishing Inc. All Rights Reserved.

‘The party's over,” federal Health Minister Tony Clement intoned this past weekend. Mr. Clement was talking about drug users, but it wasn't entirely clear which ones. It might have been otherwise law-abiding citizens who occasionally smoke marijuana. Or perhaps it was all those partiers suffering from debilitating addictions to hard drugs such as heroin and crack cocaine. Either way, Mr. Clement appears to have borrowed his rhetoric from the 1980s. To go with it, he appears set to borrow the disastrous “War on Drugs” strategy from south of the border.

This week, the federal government is set to unveil a new $64-million anti-drug strategy. Some of its anticipated components, including more money for treatment programs and a crackdown on drug smuggling at the border, are worthwhile. But the government is also reportedly set to shift away from harm-reduction programs. In their place, it is expected to launch both an anti-drug messaging campaign targeting teenagers and a crackdown on illegal drug use – presumably meaning more criminal charges against both hard- and soft-drug users.

All the available evidence suggests that this will be a waste of time and money. Worse, it could cost some lives and ruin others. The overwhelming body of research shows that harm-reduction strategies such as Insite, the Vancouver safe-injection site for heroin users, succeeds in limiting the health and social costs of addiction, preventing deaths from overdose and disease and directing addicts toward treatment. Yet rather than expand such programs, the government is reluctant even to keep Insite going; it announced yesterday that the site will be allowed to operate through June of next year, but refused to confirm its long-term future. As much of the rest of the world recognizes addiction for the disease it is, the Conservatives appear poised to revert to treating it like a crime. Meanwhile, rather than continue with the previous government's plan to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use, they will ensure that more Canadians are saddled with criminal records for indulging in a substance no more harmful than alcohol or tobacco.

This new strategy may play well with some members of the Conservatives' base. But as evidenced by what has transpired in the United States, it will do absolutely nothing to reduce drug use. Its only effect will be to make the effects of substance abuse all the more painful.

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