Controversy for Blogophilia 47.4

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.


She left,

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.


London alley. Taken by Susan Koenig


Written for

 Blogophilia 47.4 Topic: “Whisper Down The Lane”

 Bonus Points:

(Hard, 2pts): include the title of a Brad Pitt movie

(Easy, 1pt): use the words “to, two and too” in the blog


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30 Responses to Controversy for Blogophilia 47.4

  1. Oh Sassy it did bring tears to the eyes, poor lost souls rambling about, That diary link was enlightening

  2. Liam says:

    close to home ur poem close to home. Good post

  3. Chuck says:

    An interesting subject, positive I don’t know enough to have an opinion. Right now I’m trying to envision as many different sides as I can

  4. Ruz/Feathered Pen says:

    Such an informative post Sue. Harm reduction, definitely new to me. We know for a fact that any drug , legal or illegal , any substance that has gone to our system of any kind must be tapered and withdrawn slowly as it can be lethal too if withdrawn drastically. I think what they are aiming for is a gradual and systematic transformation process. It’s an interesting concept but it’s something that must be highly monitored if it is creating the change we want to see from these people dependent on drugs. A sense of purpose and helping them to become productive will speed-up their recovery because mostly, as Og Mandino put it, a bad habit can be overcome only by another habit.We might as well form good habits to replace the bad habits. Yeah, something like that.

    Love your poem as well. True, at first, the pill is just a necessity to cover up the pain. But later on, the one hooked to the drugs justify of its continuous usage as it turns into a capricious vice,thereby,creating a deeper pain and permanent damage.

  5. jennajaxon says:

    I’d never heard of Harm Reduction. Very informative post. Lots of food for thought. The Ice cream and turkey story made me teary. Great blog.

  6. thejustjeff says:

    Well you wont get an argument from me love. Addiction is a disease in itself. A disease that I would say the criminal system is no where near capable of handling. Ever.

  7. Leta says:

    Very thoughtful and well written blog for you this week. Indeed it is controversial on all sides…. too many inlets and not enough outlets, if you know what I mean. The solutions are legion, it just takes that one big step towards…. and I don’t say that flippantly because I know there are more that factors into this than what the physical eye sees. A long emotional process, for sure, towards healing. Thank you for sharing. ❤

  8. Chazz says:

    not sure it works, but not sure it doesnt either. i think only time will tell.

  9. Steven says:

    Excellent write…..I’ll just say this, as a fellow junkie… addict is going to use, no matter what. No matter how, when, or where, we will find a way to use. Given a choice between using and not using, a junkie will always choose to use. Given a choice between using with clean needles in a safe environment and using with dirty needles in an unsafe environment, of course we’ll choose the safe route. It’s a godsend that there are harm reduction places like this, I only wish there were more of them, and I wish there had been places like this available to me when I was still shooting.

    As to the stereotypes, people don’t want to change their status quo. It’s easier to think that only uneducated, unemployed, trailer trash people are addicts; they don’t want to know that their bank teller, their lawyer, or their friendly bag boy at the grocers might be addicts too.

  10. Harm reduction sounds like a step in the right direction to me. I see no value added to society to imprison non-violent offenders – how about more community service et al.

  11. Marvin Martian says:

    Truly an education!! 8 points, Earthling!! 😀

  12. bluerose says:

    Just love this poem, as I’ve said before!

    And, this is an excellent post! If they had programs like this back when I was using, I might have learned a lot sooner about my addiction.

  13. Kudos to Steve the Cop!

    Your poem was perfect for this post! Compassion is so important! It is scary that it could be just one paycheck away for so many folks.

    I don’t know if Harm reduction will work long term, but it is a step in the right direction. I only hope there is help included to those that participate for long term success in beating their addictions.

  14. trev says:

    You put both sides so eloquently Sue… the relief work and the side the relief is battling with … and then to enrol the attitudes of the not so informed makes this an excellent read love… so very powerful and very educational…
    I work closely with the Mental Health Trust here in Nottingham in the UK and I take my hat off to Steve, the cop, who is getting to grips with the endless stream of misery addiction inflicts on the human race.
    Your words describes exactly the unbelievable misery being suffered in peoples lives when addiction gets hold and the terrible damage it dose…The Dark Side of the Sun says it all really..

    your a brilliant writer Sue…. xxx

  15. As Vancouver is my *home town*, something I find interesting, yet is ALWAYS left out of those newspaper stories, is the huge increase in crime around the free needle exchange in Vancouver.

    Many shopkeepers were forced into bankruptcy due to constantly getting broken into, their shop fronts being defiled, and the constant danger to their swiftly-disapearing-customers.

    One of the main instigators in this whole mess was the shut-down of the Riverview mental hospital (aprox 10-15 years ago), where, due to lack of funds, all the mentally ill patients were pretty much turned out onto the streets.

    I wonder, are they simply treating the symptom?

  16. I have never heard of harm reduction programs before. very interesting. We don;t have anything comparable around here that i know of.

    Wow! loved the poem! very powerful and great imagery!

    btw – i found an email to you that was a draft – hit save instead of send – so have now sent it on it;s way and am waiting to receive my blonde of the week award 😉

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