It frequently dismays me to hear uninformed and often damaging public opinion voiced on the hugely complex issue of drug policy, most notably regarding harm reduction (safe injection) centres, decriminalization, needle exchange programs, and the provision and regulation of safe supplies.
I’m writing to encourage readers to consider evidence, data, peer-reviewed studies, and success stories from around the world before rushing to conclusions based upon personal experience, anecdote, assumption, ‘traditional sensibilities’ and a priori reasoning. It’s common to hear people confidently exclaim ‘it’s crazy to give the addicts what they want when we’re supposed to be stopping them’.
The new leader of Canada’s Conservative party is himself guilty of intentionally and cynically playing upon these outdated misconceptions and prejudices when he was recently filmed in front of a group of homeless people claiming that government spending on harm reduction, decriminalization and similar progressive, evidence-based policies amount to a failed experiment and waste of money. These policies are being adopted due to evidence and an excellent track record elsewhere, all over the world. His message and intention are obvious; this is where our drug problem lives and comes from, and you can look forward to more of this, perhaps even in your own neighbourhood, should you not vote for someone with his common sense and traditional approach to ‘right and wrong’.
And he claims this while knowing that 83 per cent of overdose deaths in 2022 occurred inside; 56 per cent in private residences and 27 per cent in shelters, hotels and social housing (Source: BC Coroner’s Office).
Directly suggesting that drug abuse and opioid deaths largely occurs within homeless populations has long been a powerful and invocative formula for such populists. It helps those ignorant of the true nature of this crisis feel comfortable in the misconception that it’s ‘those people’ with the problem. This is the absolute antithesis of what a responsible leader should be doing. People like you, me and Poilievre himself also die from opioid addiction, without having spent a single night sleeping under an overpass.
It’s also common for those suffering from addiction to be objectified and even dehumanized by being referred to as ‘addicts’, as has happened in letters written to this very publication. It’s easier for many to label them as ‘junkies’ and ‘bums’, people who have somehow fallen from grace, hiding grubby and shameful habits resulting from poor life choices. Within this climate of fear, taboo and prejudice, organized crime thrives, which is why drug criminals are, without exception, aggressively opposed to decriminalization, supervised use and safe supply programs. I can assure you they’re not pursuing that agenda out of concern for their customers’ health.
So if you’re someone who assumes that two plus two always equals four in areas as complex as drug policy, take the time to find out about the successes (most obviously Portugal and many other instances across Europe) and failures (including the US ‘War On Drugs’ and Duterte’s brutally violent enforcement policies in the Philippines) among global attempts to tackle drug problems. It may not be as straightforward as ‘common sense’ leads some to think.