I am a proud Canadian and an even prouder Vancouverite. But when I heard that our government was going to “help” drug addicts by making possession of a small amount of opiates and other street drugs legal – ostensibly so that addicts would use together instead of in isolation and somehow, someway, protect each other from overdosing – I felt absolutely enraged.
My immediate question for them was “Is this the best you’ve got?” THIS is their solution to the toxic drug overdose epidemic we’ve been battling for far too many years?
These “leaders” (who WE elect and whose salaries WE pay) have continued to try everything – everything, this is, except to do what will actually work. In order for addiction to stop, we need to get underneath it, to determine why people feel the need to blotto out their lives, and then provide some help for THAT! It isn’t going to help to make possession of small amounts of drugs okay so that addicts don’t feel the ‘stigma’ and will hopefully use together more often, so there are fewer isolated deaths.
In my opinion, that is a classic example of the band-aid on the heart attack. What are they thinking? Seriously, there are still plenty of addicts using together on the streets of most major cities and towns – that is definitely true here in Vancouver. And please understand that the way in which most hard-core addicts use their drugs is not about ‘partying’ with others.
I just want to tell these leaders – again, who WE elect and whose salaries WE pay – to get a grip.
I am a former opioid addict with nearly 35 years clean and sober now. I have been an Addictions Therapist – both in the beleaguered Downtown Eastside and in private practice – for over 3 decades.
I know what I’m talking about.
What will change this is what would have always changed this. We need money going into prevention, education, and treatment – just as we always have.
There is still not enough work being done around prevention for school-aged youth, who are starting to use mind-altering substances at younger and younger ages. (Think 10-year-olds on the school bus.) Are parents even being made aware of this?
There is not nearly enough education for the families whose lives are being blown apart – both emotionally and financially – as they struggle and suffer right along with the addicts they love so dearly. These loved ones need to learn the pivotal and essential differences between ‘enabling’ their addicted loved ones and actually ‘helping’ them, so that they can learn how to stop doing whatever actions may unknowingly be contributing to keeping the addiction going – which is always the last thing any of them want to be doing. Those behaviour changes on the part of the family members will radically cut back on the amount of addiction we are seeing today.
And what about accessible, available, affordable treatment? Anyone who has been tormented by this horrific situation knows that there are far too many people, thousands of them in fact, still in active addiction who can’t get a free or affordable treatment bed for months, if not longer. The wait-list for government-funded rehab beds is outrageous and has been for many years. In order for the vast majority of people to get the help they need – and truly want – addicts and their families need to shell out thousands of dollars for a mere 30-day stint in residential rehab which, in my personal and professional opinion, is not nearly enough treatment time for most people trying to recover and stay clean for the long haul. Thirty days of rehab is a tiny drop in the bucket of long-term recovery – yet another band-aid on yet another heart attack – and one that most families cannot possibly afford.
When will our flailing government finally get a clue and use their money wisely by devising a program that takes people off the street – but not just for harm-reduction? Really, is it too much to ask for us to help people struggling with addiction to ultimately get onto a path to receiving the help they actually need? Let’s give them an opportunity to learn about themselves, to begin to understand why they have been choosing such self-destructive behaviours – and to utilize that creative and imperative self-awareness so that they don’t have to use toxic mind-altering substances at all!
Although I am not completely opposed to harm reduction, I don’t see this as a serious strategy to stop this ‘epidemic’ we’ve been talking about for far too many years. Harm reduction, such as this new government mandate they have oh-so-proudly put forth, has already been tried in so many different ways. But addicts and addiction professionals alike know that the progressive nature of addiction and the physical “tolerance” that goes with it requires that, over time, more and more of the substance is needed to create the same high. This is why harm-reduction, for many people, ultimately leads right back to hard-core addiction.
In order to stop addiction, the question we need to ask is WHY do people feel the need to get away from their daily lives, and instead believe that poisoning themselves to the point of overdose and death is somehow a better option? What is that really about? Treatment that is geared to finding out what makes that happen – AND educating the families about how to truly help instead of enable the person they love so much – is what is going to finally stop this.
Prevention, education and accessible, affordable treatment have been what we’ve needed all along.
Isn’t it about time to put THAT money where our collective mouth is?
Nichola Hall says
Right on, Candace!!! I totally agree with you.
I’m writing from the UK right now but will be in touch when I get back,
Candace Plattor says
Hi Nichola – thanks for writing, all the way from the UK! I’d love to hear more about your thoughts if you want to write again when you’re back…
Well done article. Heard about the eastern USA has set up treatment centres to divert people from in trouble with the law who are in a revolving door with police and jail. Therefore the police haven’t given up hope as there has been no consequences for the people breaking the law and are immediately released. They can go to drug recovery jail or stay on the streets. It’s up to them. In the jail treatment they have education and school to allow them to become productive after a number of years
Candace Plattor says
Hi Lee – I think that’s a great idea, certainly better than what we’re doing here in Vancouver so far. I like the idea of giving people the choice about whether they want a way to actually recover and live a better life – because, for all of us in that situation, it absolutely IS a choice. We definitely need something like that kind of a system here too. Thanks for letting me know about this – I appreciate that!
Sundee Carr says
I love this, Candace!!!
Candace Plattor says
Thanks Sundee – I think it’s really important to call out foolishness when our leaders do not provide what we need them to – especially with a life-and-death issue like addiction.