OUR U.S.-INSPIRED DRUG POLICY WASTES MONEY AND LIVES
Health Officers' Council Says Harm Reduction, Not Criminalization, Way To Go
The B.C. Health Officers' Council this week reiterated its stance that a health-based approach to addiction and drug policy is required, not a criminal strategy.
"Imitating the U.S. approach by escalating the war on drugs as the federal government is doing will not reduce drug-related crime or drug use," said an insistent Dr. Richard Mathias, speaking for the council.
"We only have to look south to the United States to see how policies [such as] mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related crimes and coercive addiction treatment have failed."
In conjunction with a two-day, UN-sponsored drug conference in Vancouver, the council released a new report that underscores why the federal Conservative plan is wrong-headed.
The brief was unequivocal: Harm-reduction programs rather than stiffer criminal penalties are the way to go.
Research by the Canadian Centre for Substance Abuse, cited by the health officers, indicates current policies and programs for psychoactive substances cost the economy some $40 billion annually. It adds such drugs are linked every year to nearly 50,000 deaths.
What we're doing isn't working.
The health officers' council and many others at Beyond 2008, held at the Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue, say the strategy of putting more and more money into the same old police and penitentiary pockets is an expensive failure.
It has neither reduced the supply of illicit substances that swamp our streets, nor made our neighbourhoods safer.
"The current punitive approaches to illegal drugs are not effective, waste valuable public resources and increase rather than reduce harms," said Mathias, a medical professor at UBC.
"It is time to apply our energies to new and innovative approaches that are supported by scientific evidence rather than continuing to pour tax dollars into the same ineffective and harmful programs and expecting different results."
He and others can repeat that over and over again, but I believe his voice and those singing harmony with him are being ignored.
This paper is only the latest call for lawmakers to eschew the stern paternalism of the last century and regulate psychoactive substances from the perspective of improving and protecting public health.
Since the Le Dain commission of the 1970s, a broad chorus of individuals, organizations, leading academics, policy makers, community groups and government studies has concluded it's time to change our approach to drug control.
Yet Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative administration continues singing from the same hymnbook as U.S. Republicans -- spare the rod, spoil the drug offender.
It's a discredited approach.
"The federal government's mandatory-minimum proposals will increase incarceration rates of people with low-level involvement in drugs, with no evidence that these harsh measures will actually affect the drug trade," according to Neil Boyd, Associate Director of Simon Fraser University's School of Criminology.
"These policies will stress already overcrowded jails and put newly incarcerated people at increased risk of many social and health problems such as HIV and hepatitis, which are seen at high rates in jails."
In federal prisons the incidence of HIV is seven to 10 times higher and Hepatitis C is 30 times higher than in the general population.
Even with their security measures, penitentiaries, too, are awash with drugs.
Like the health officers' council and others, Boyd has long advocated for drug-law reform.
Still, in spite of the progressive recommendations from this conference and others that will flow to the UN for discussion later this summer, change is unlikely.
Those in power in Washington, D.C. and Ottawa appear deaf to this message.
It doesn't matter how much research, how much data, or how many eminent minds point to the dire need for a change in direction.
Politicians keep plodding down the same old policy path when it comes to drugs -- more policing, more prisons, more punishment.
The result is predictable -- more wasted money, more wasted lives.
If they would only listen to the mounting refrain, as the health officers' council says, we'd save money, we'd save lives.
Wed, 06 Feb 2008
Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Copyright: 2008 The Vancouver Sun