Canada’s third-largest city has embarked on a radical experiment: Over the last several years, it has overhauled its police and social services practices to re-frame drug use as primarily a public health issue, not a criminal one. In the process, it has become by far the continent’s most drug-tolerant city, launching an experiment dramatically at odds with the U.S. War on Drugs.
Vancouver has essentially become a gigantic field test, a 2 million-person laboratory for a set of tactics derived from a school of thought known as “harm reduction.” It’s based on a simple premise: No matter how many scare tactics are tried, laws passed or punishments imposed, people are going to get high. ...
Harm reduction is less about compassion than it is about enlightened self-interest. The idea is to give addicts clean needles and mouthpieces not to be nice but so they don’t get HIV or pneumonia from sharing equipment and then become a burden on the public health system. Give them a medically supervised place to shoot up so they don’t overdose and clog up emergency rooms, leaving their infected needles behind on the sidewalk.
Give them methadone — or even heroin — for free so they don’t break into cars and homes to get money for the next fix.
Though Vancouver is cutting the collateral damage caused by hard drugs, the city is making far less progress in reducing the number of users. Surveys report that drug use is higher in British Columbia than in the rest of Canada. A recent poll found that almost half of all Vancouverites consider drugs a major problem in their communities — a figure double that for residents of Canada’s biggest cities, Toronto and Montreal.
With serious drug users come rip-offs, break-ins and holdups for fix money. So it’s no surprise that Vancouver’s property crime and bank robbery rates are higher than most of Canada’s. The city also has more gun-related crimes per capita than any other in the nation, a fact at least one criminologist has linked to the number of substance abusers.
November 11, 2008
Let junkies be junkies
Very interesting article by Vince Beiser of Miller-McCune about drug policy in Vancouver (thanks, Louise). It is also fair and balanced. From the article:
Labels: war on drugs