JAIL ADDICTS? 'MR. HARPER, WE'RE ALREADY HERE'
Fund More Detox Centres, Not Needle Sites, Says DPN
Mission Institution prisoner No. 786492E was an admitted crack-cocaine addict now doing minimum 10 in medium security for killing a woman he met at an addiction treatment centre.
The jury who convicted Alan Steele last year learned he killed friend Cindy Kaplan after she threatened to spill the beans to his family about his crippling dependency on smoking crack.
The 54-year-old is not encouraged by the feds' latest plan to put druggies and pushers behind barbed wire: That's where most wind up now, Steele pointed out. And a fat lot of good it has done them or law-abiding Canadians, after all, jail and drugs go hand in hand.
"Prime Minister Stephen Harper wants to imprison drug addicts?" the former realtor wrote in reply to several recent columns on drugs.
"Mr. Harper, we're already here, jail is where most addicts end up."
Steele said the joint provides residents, the new and the initiated, with an array of narcotics. It's their choice; no different from outside.
"It's almost like sending a guy with a sugar craving to do time at the
7-Eleven. What kind of drug can't be found [here]? I fail to see the wisdom in locking addicts away in places where drugs abound. There are many men here like myself that would give anything to undo the harm and damage inflicted on others ( and ourselves. )"
Steele said education and treatment remain the most effective way to combat the soaring use of drugs.
But effective treatment doesn't necessarily mean harm-reduction strategies such as dishing out heroin to junkies, needle exchange or government-funded sites where they can shoot up or overdose with a nurse nearby to bring them back.
The Canada-wide Drug Prevention Network is against giving drugs to druggies, arguing that it sends the message that getting high is a feasible, acceptable lifestyle as long as use is hassle-free.
Abstinence is the only way out.
"The idea that we can use drugs safely is a dangerous one," the DPN board -- which includes Lower Mainland addiction specialists Drs. Colin Mangham, Donald Hedges and Doug Coleman -- notes.
"Substance use is not just another choice. It is an unsafe choice that brings great harm to individuals, families and communities."
Hedges, in a recent letter to a neighbouring newspaper, said governments, instead of aiding and abetting an addict's illness, ought to invest money and resources in detox treatment centres. Addicted professionals and Canada's rich and famous go cold turkey, he noted, they don't maintain use as a means of dealing with addiction, why do we think street addicts should be treated any differently?
Switzerland has 5,000 detox beds, one per 1,000 citizens, and detox on demand while B.C. has 200 beds, one per 20,000 residents.
"It's very hard for someone addicted to alcohol or other drugs to gain access to one when in crisis. Those fortunate to find a bed in a publicly funded treatment centre have to pay a per-diem of over $50 per day. No heart patients pay a per-diem for a hospital bed.
"Our failure to offer comprehensive treatment to our addicted fellow citizens is at the root of the tragedy in the Downtown Eastside and is our great shame."
2007 The Province