Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Nursing Leader, Liz Evans (Letter to the editor, June 7 National Post)

(Retrieved from Factiva)

The evidence is clear: Harm reduction works
Liz Evans
National Post
587 words
7 June 2007
National Post
(c) 2007 National Post . All Rights Reserved.

When the National Post comments on harm reduction so glibly (" 'Harm reduction' doesn't work," editorial, May 29), and without any research to back up those comments, it does itself, and its readers, a great disservice.

Addiction is a complex issue, and anyone who thinks a simple solution exists hasn't worked in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. I am the executive director of the non-profit organization that, together with Vancouver Coastal Health, runs Vancouver's Supervised Injection Site. I am a nurse by training, and a public health advocate by design -- because all of my training as a nurse wasn't enough to make a substantial difference in people's lives.

Just like the author of the Post's editorial, I thought helping those with addiction was simple. We just need to offer treatment. But if it were that easy, the problem would have been solved long ago. I wouldn't have had to call the parents of addicts who had overdosed and tell them their child was dead. I met one mother, at the airport, who had flown across the country to visit her dying son. She arrived too late and fell to the floor screaming in grief when she heard the news. She wanted her addict son alive, addicted or not. Which is what harm reduction does -- it keeps people alive, so that one day, they can enter treatment.

Harm reduction strategies buy time because not everyone is ready to enter treatment. Clean needles and condom distribution prevent the spread of disease. These are basic health interventions that are accepted across the world, from the United Nations to the medical health officers in every jurisdiction of this country.

Vancouver's Supervised Injection Site -- the only one in North America is -- neither the problem nor the solution. It is one measure designed to reduce public disorder, which it has done; reduce the spread of HIV, which it has done; provide a doorway into the health system and into treatment, which it has also done. The Supervised Injection Site receives no federal government money to operate. In the past, the federal government did pay for a group of highly qualified research scientists to conduct a thorough evaluation of Insite and its outcomes, and has proved its success.

I agree that any nation-wide drug strategy desperately needs to incorporate improved enforcement, comprehensive prevention programs and flexible and accessible detox and treatment interventions. But it also needs to include harm reduction -- so people don't die unnecessarily and parents don't continue to lose their children. The most recent piece of research indicates that there has been a 30% increase in the number of people entering detox and methadone therapy as a result of using the injection site -- which strengthens further the argument that harm reduction is a necessary part of the health care continuum.

As Stephen Harper prepares to unveil his new drug strategy, we welcome the much-needed resources to expand addiction treatment. We want Canada to have a drug strategy that Canadians can be proud of. A drug strategy that acknowledges the suffering of our citizens, one that allows access to desperately needed treatment and support and doesn't send addicts back to die alone in Canada's back alleyways.

-Liz Evans is executive director of the PHS Community Services Society, which operates InSite, Vancouver's Supervised Injection Site

No comments: