Dogma and ideology continue to reign supreme for the Canadian Federal government

The Conservative Party of Canada has received another setback in their continued fight against a safe-injection site in Vancouver, BC.  The Insite facility located in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, well recognized as one of the most drug-infested and crime-infused regions on the continent, is the only place in North America where drug addicts can legally and safely inject their drug of choice (typically heroin, cocaine, and morphine).  In 2003, the facility and the province of BC were granted an exemption allowing them to open what was supposed to be a trial run of a harm-reduction strategy.  This exemption was extended twice, before being ruled as a permanent exemption by the BC Supreme Court in 2008.

This latest setback for the Canadian Federal government, held by a minority Conservative Party of Canada, is the second time that this permanent exemption has been challenged, and the second time the Federal government has lost.  From my conversations, it seems that many intuitively believe that the Federal government is right: why are tax payer dollars going towards a facility that “promotes” using illegal, Schedule I drugs?

The answer is, necessarily, a bit nuanced.  Undoubtedly the world would be best if no one ever used heroin.  Unfortunately, that’s not the world we live in.  In Vancouver in particular, unmonitored drug use translates to deaths by overdose and by HIV/AIDS resulting from sharing needles.  The Insite facility was designed to attack this problem: by providing a clean facility with clean needles where drugs can be injected by registered nurses, we can drastically reduce the number of overdoses and slow the transmission of HIV/AIDS.  Also, by providing an environment where drug addicts can easily seek support if wanted, the Insite facility could (in theory) help decrease the number of addicts through counselling services.

The evidence all comes down on the side of Insite.  A May, 2007 paper in the journal Addiction noted that “[Insite]’s opening was associated independently with a 30% increase in detoxification service use, and this behaviour was associated with increased rates of long-term addiction treatment initiation and reduced injecting at [Insite].”  An earlier paper in the same journal found that the Insite location led to a reduction in public injection, neighbourhood littering, and needle sharing.  You can find a great deal of support in the drug literature for the efficacy of Insite, and it actually has the potential to save money for the tax payers.  A single case of HIV/AIDS costs ~$250,000; running the facility costs ~$500,000/year; the facility serves ~25,000 injections per year; and 30% of the facility’s users have HIV/AIDS.  If the facility can prevent at least two cases of HIV/AIDS (which seems incredibly plausible), then the facility has already made up for its cost to taxpayers.  Still, I completely understand that some taxpayers don’t want to implicity support viewpoints they disagree with, so I would be open to allowing a well-regulated private location (perhaps non-profit) to establish itself in Vancouver, but the Conservative Party of Canada is no more willing to do that than they are the current policy.

This brings me back to my original point: the CPC is intentionally ignoring evidence that suggests that this policy has been greatly beneficial to not only the addicts in question, but to the community as a whole.  Indeed, empirical evidence continues to strongly support the argument that the only useful approach to ANY currently illegal drug is that of harm reduction.  The CPC doesn’t care about the evidence, though; they are stuck to their dogmatic ideology which says explicity that the only solution to illegal drug use is punishment.  This is why they’ll enjoy their alcohol at New Year’s while someone who grows 5 less harmful cannabis plants (relative to alcohol) will be sentenced to a year or more in jail, and why taxpayer money continues to be wasted fighting a facility that actually attacks what the CPC claims they’re seeking to get under control.

You can be sure that the CPC will be appealing the latest decision in a clear chain of well-reasoned arguments by the BC provincial courts.  While those of us in favour of ending the scourge of heroin addiction are hoping for more Insite facilities, the CPC hopes to extinguish a rare spark of success in this decades long, and rather futile, war on drug users.

In related news, evidence seems to indicate that the US National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign has not only failed to reduce use of cannabis: it seems to have done the opposite.  The article I’ve linked to shows a couple examples which indicate, to me, why the campaign is ineffective: it is either misleading or misrepresentative.  Take, for example, the “Pot Quiz” which suggests that there is more cancer-causing tar in a joint than there is in a cigarette.  This statement is intended to imply that cannabis causes cancer, even though studies like those of Dr. Donald Tashkin of UCLA have shown: A) There is no correlation between smoking cannabis and cancer, B) The THC present in cannabis seems to have a protective effect against lung cancer, C) Other cannabinoids (such as CBD) seem to be capable of triggering autophagy in cancer cells, a form of programmed cell death.  In other words, if smoking cannabis has a specific relation to cancer, it seems to be in preventing or killing it, not causing it.  You can also avoid almost all of the carcinogens by using a vapourizer, which has repeatedly shown to be a safe method of ingesting cannabis, instead of smoking via a joint.


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