Due to a recent article in our National newspaper about aVancouverpolice officer who is blogging his experiences as a beat cop in the DTES (downtown east side) of that city, my interest in the controversial subject of Harm Reduction has been re-kindled.
Steve the Cop, as he is known, presents his images, impressions and experiences of this area and of the people he meets. One of the main themes is Harm Reduction; an extremely controversial subject. His entries often elicit comments that are interesting, informative and factious.
His webisite is here
I’ve quoted one of his posts in its entirety so as not to misrepresent him.
“From free crack pipes to free booze, to designs for another drug injection site, there was no shortage of fodder in the news about the Downtown Eastside this week. I’ve been a little lax on my own musings (I blame it on day shifts sucking the life out of me), so I’ve created links to some of the news stories so you can read all about it. I’m sure it will stir up some interesting discussion.
First, a great article in the Globe and Mail about the pressures and challenges police officers face when dealing with people who have mental illnesses. This one hit home. Here on the Downtown Eastside, it’s estimated that half of all the people we deal with are living with a mental illness. Sometimes they’re diagnosed and being treated. Often, their illness is undiagnosed. Almost always they’re drug users.
The Vancouver Courier published a piece about so-called illicit drinkers — alcoholics who drink themselves senseless with rubbing alcohol, hand-sanitizer and mouthwash. Seems some are now calling for free alcohol to be doled out. It would be part of a harm reduction plan, not unlike Insite*, where hardcore alcoholics would have access to hard liquor, wine or possibly beer. It’ll be interesting to see if this has legs.
Of course, this all comes on the heels of last week’s news about free crack pipes being circulated around the Downtown Eastside. Some 60,000 pipes are being handed out as part of an eight-month pilot project to see if free pipes – apparently they’re shatter proof and heat resistant to prevent burning of the lips — can reduce the spread of infectious diseases. The project is being spearheaded by Vancouver Coastal Health, with help from Portland Hotel Society. While some say it’s an important health initiative designed to save lives, others argue it simply enables people by giving them the tools they need to destroy their lives. The Portland Hotel Society was the same group that was in the news this week floating the idea of a second Supervised Injection Site. Apparently the existing Insite facility has reached its capacity and they need another one to meet the demand.
I’m sure to have much more to say in the coming weeks about all of these hot-topics, although I’ll probably tread lightly when it comes to my own opinions. Ultimately, these are public policy decisions that are made by governments. It’s not really our place as police to judge (publicly, at least) if they’re right or wrong.”
Since opening its doors in 2003, Insite has been a safe, health-focused place where people inject drugs and connect to health care services – from primary care to treat disease and infection, to addiction counselling and treatment, to housing and community supports.
Insite isNorth America’s first legal supervised injection site. The BC Ministry of Health Services provides operational funding for Insite through Vancouver Coastal Health, which operates the facility in conjunction with PHS Community Services Society.
Insite operates on a harm-reduction model, which means it strives to decrease the adverse health, social and economic consequences of drug use without requiring abstinence from drug use.
Insite is the only supervised injection site in North America but more than two others exist in Europe: the Netherlands Germany andSwitzerland.
A brief discussion about harm reduction.
Harm reduction refers to a range of public health policies designed to reduce the harmful consequences associated with recreational drug use and other high risk activities. Harm reduction is put forward as a useful perspective alongside the more conventional approaches of demand and supply reduction.
Many advocates argue that prohibitionist laws criminalize people for suffering from a disease and cause harm, for example by obliging drug addicts to obtain drugs of unknown purity from unreliable criminal sources at high prices, increasing the risk of overdose and death Its critics are concerned that tolerating risky or illegal behaviour sends a message to the community that these behaviours are acceptable.
Toronto’s Seaton House became the first homeless shelter in Canadato operate a “wet shelter” on a “managed alcohol” principle in which clients are served a glass of wine once an hour unless staff determine that they are too inebriated to continue. Previously, homeless alcoholics opted to stay on the streets often seeking alcohol from unsafe sources such as mouthwash, rubbing alcohol or industrial products which, in turn, resulted in frequent use of emergency medical facilities. The program has been duplicated in other Canadian cities and a study ofOttawa’s “wet shelter” found that emergency room visit and police encounters by clients were cut by half.
“Harm Reduction is anything that reduces the risk of injury whether or not the individual is able to abstain from the risky behavior.
“Harm Reduction differs from current models in that it does not require individuals to remove their primary coping mechanism until new coping mechanism are in place. Thus, creating an easier more obtainable avenue for desired behavioral change.”
— Michael Scavuzzo, Harm Reduction Advocate
In the early 1980sAmsterdamrecognized that drug use is a disorder and that medical and social care must be provided to clear the path toward natural recovery. The city’s first needle exchange program in 1984 was operated by the “Junky Union”, a recognized organization of injection drug users. Taking a pragmatic and non-moralistic attitude toward drug use, the city developed a variety of Harm Reduction programs.
Harm Reduction is a relatively new social policy which has gained popularity inBritain, theNetherlandsand currently theUnited States. Although Harm Reduction can be used as a framework for all drugs, including alcohol, it has primarily been applied to injection drug use (IDU) as a way of slowing the spread of HIV infection.
In theUK, Harm Reduction can be traced back to the old “British System”, which emerged as a result of recommendations of the Rolleston Committee of the1920s. This group of leading British physicians concluded that in certain cases maintenance on drugs may be necessary to help drug abusers lead useful lives.
The first priority of Harm Reduction is to decrease the negative consequences of drug use. For example needle exchanges that provide clean needles free of charge. At the aids committee I used to volunteer at clients were able to pick up not only needles but anything from cookers to ties to condoms.
My favourite blog on this site to date is entitled “Ice cream and turkey” posted Christmas day. I won’t go into the story, you can read it for yourself, but one of the street people, an addict, had recently brought groceries for the first time in a long time and now had ice cream in his fridge. This was his big news. The post brought tears to my eyes
Steve the cop is to be commended for providing a forum for this exchange of ideas. And for highlighting a segment of society repudiated by most people but who, thanks to this police officer, is no longer faceless.
The homeless, the addicted and the mentally ill exist like the a whisper down the lane but few take the trouble to hear them, and fewer still venture down the lane out of fear that the stereotype they choose to believe may be false.
An old poem of mine seems applicable to this topic and to the whispers down the lane, or alley in this case. I could have called the poem Dark side of the Sun, I suppose.
In the murky gloom of the tenement,
I crouch in the mud shade of life,
on the margins; out of sight, out of mind.
Huddled in my corner of existence.
Surrounded by meager possessions,
for comfort; my home.
Reaching out, I touch my bags and boxes.
My “stuff”; reassured that they exit
and that I exist.
The shade sounds
are the silence of my failures.
Failures not deliberate but
simply due to happenstance.
The alley reeks of a life not well lived.
I see you walking by,
in the sunlight of your superiority,
with your looks of scorn,
as if you never disappeared down the path of despair.
You think I’m a bum:
with my unkempt clothes,
and dull eyes filled with hunger,
and tinge of a stink.
Just an emaciated, reaggedity shape in the corner
of the alley,
as invisible as another piece of dirty back street refuse.
You think I have no education,
that I am just an ignorant. derelict
I had a life like yours:
The accident was bad,
could not work,
could not pull my weight.
The pain pills helped.
Then became necessary
even when the pain was gone.
took the kids,
lost the house,
out on the streets.
The mission was chaos.
So here I sit;
watching you walk on by,
in the sun of a fulfilled life,
blind to my existence in the shadows
Where coldness hovers in the shade,
emitting a chill straight to the soul.
This is my story.
It could happen to you.
Should you lose yourself in the shade of the alley.
Blogophilia 47.4 Topic: “Whisper Down The Lane”
(Hard, 2pts): include the title of a Brad Pitt movie
(Easy, 1pt): use the words “to, two and too” in the blog