An interesting item in the news recently caught my attention. The Canadian government plans to introduce a trial program of handing out free heroin to addicts in a bid to try and stop them from further destroying their lives through prostitution and theft to feed their addiction. This program will mainly be tried in Vancouver’s notorious east side where pimps, prostitutes, pushers and users number in the thousands.
It has gotten so bad there apparently you can’t walk down an alley without tripping over someone lying on the ground with a needle in their arm. Other cities like Montreal and Toronto could be next. Under a clinical trial Health Canada will give approximately 200 heroin users a prescription for pharmaceutical grade smack for about a year. It is hoped that the users will be freed from their daily need to find cash to feed their habit and find better ways to improve their lives. Only hardcore users that have been poking themselves for over five years will be accepted.
Now there are different ways of looking at drug problems in society. The two main ones are:-
1. Zero tolerance: tough laws, tough crackdowns and tough jail sentences
2. Harm reduction: people are going to do what they want; we might as well try to help them do it safely so they don’t kill themselves or others in the process.
My preference is for the latter. Needle exchange programs & safe houses to shoot up in are classic examples of harm reduction programs already set up in various countries around the world. Some argue this is just excusing the behavior of addicts and encouraging them. Others say as stated above, people are going to do what they want no matter what, so let’s try to help them in a different way than locking them up.
Let’s take needle exchange for example… would you rather addicts share dirty needles and further the spread of H.I.V. throughout the population?
I myself have benefited from harm reduction. When I was in my experimental drug phase, I was particularly in love with ecstasy. One organization which practices ecstasy related HR is Dance Safe, which I found to be of great use in wading through street myth to actual factual information about the drug. They even go to great lengths to provide pill testing information and test kits to users of MDMA so they can avoid adulterated pills and their possible serious effects.
But back to the heroin thing… I’m wondering if handing out free H is going too far with harm reduction? Will there be the support programs in place to try and guide these users off the stuff they are getting for free? Will getting it so easily and at such high quality make it harder to stop? Is a year trial program even long enough to get these hardcore users off something so terribly gripping? The police are fully on board with this undertaking and that makes me wonder right there about this experiment. The cops are usually never on board unless it involves the zero tolerance approach.
Note that petty crimes in Vancouver are rampant. Drug-related prostitution is epidemic and it has one of the highest rates of car theft in North America. The cops may be on board due to the pressure of Mr. & Mrs. John Q getting sick of getting their beamers stolen. Similar hand out trials have been tried in Switzerland and have shown to effect a drop in related crimes. Successful, they are now permanent fixtures of social programs there.
Will this work in Canada? It is yet to be seen. Let me know when they start handing out free Es.