Opinion Column

The problem with Vancouver's harm reduction programs


Just when Vancouver is getting into the crack pipe business, Alberta is getting out of it. Last week Alberta Health Services announced plans to scrap its three-year-old crack pipe distribution program. This news came just days after Vancouver's announcement that health officials will pilot a similar program in the fall.

Looks like Alberta will have a willing buyer for its surplus pipes.

The results of crack pipe distribution programs elsewhere have been inconclusive, yet Vancouver Coastal Health firmly believes its effort will yield positive results. They are apparently just trying to keep up with the times as more people switch from injecting drugs to smoking crack cocaine.

Crack pipe and needle exchange programs are based on the principle of harm reduction, which involves an acceptance that people will do drugs regardless of what the law says, so the government should proactively do what it can to minimize the harm caused by the use of drugs. I would call it 'giving up.'

Harm reduction, in my view, does nothing to reduce drug use - it just tries to make injecting or inhaling dangerous, addictive, illegal substances a little bit safer.

What about the other harms caused by drug use? Like poverty, homelessness and isolation, or involvement in crime or prostitution as a means to fund drug addiction. Then there's the damage caused by fuelling the drug trade and organized crime, which impacts all of society.

Programs like "safe injection sites" send a terrible message by giving the impression that the harm in abusing heroin or crack cocaine can be reduced or eliminated. That as long as they are injected using safe needles in a clean environment, or inhaled with clean government-issued pipes, then there's nothing inherently dangerous or wrong with using these drugs.

Doing drugs is dangerous, that's why they are illegal. The best form of harm reduction would be to stamp out the drug trade, invest in rehab programs that get people off drugs, and put an end to the mixed messages sent by government programs that enable addiction.