THE DUEL: Harm reduction only answers the guilt, not the problem 0
In The Duel, 24 hours columnists David Eby and Kathryn Marshall battle over the issues of the day. Who's the winner this week? Fire us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
THIS WEEK'S TOPIC - Harm reduction: Does it really make a positive impact?
The problem with harm reduction is that it misses the point. Addicts are still addicted. Their lives are still in the grip of their addiction. Harm reduction treats the symptoms of addiction but not the core problem.
It works on the principle that instead of focusing on stopping addicts from abusing illegal and dangerous substances, we should work to make it less dangerous. These programs range from simple needle exchanges to large facilities like Vancouver's supervised injection facility. According to harm reduction advocates, it has been successful at reducing deaths on the street.
So addicts are still hooked on drugs, only now it's allegedly a bit safer.
What anyone who works with addicts will say is you cannot free anyone from addiction if they do not take responsibility for their life and their actions. Alcoholics Anonymous step number eight is to "make a list of all persons we had harmed, and become willing to make amends to them all." By focusing on harm reduction and not on rehab, the message to addicts is "it's more important that you do what you do safely, than it is to stop doing it."
Harm reduction does not force addicts to confront their addiction. It condones the addiction and abuse, and absolves them of responsibility. It gives an official stamp of approval for abuse of dangerous and debilitating substance.
And I know this is old-fashioned, but last time I checked cocaine, heroin and crystal meth are all still illegal.
By treating the visible symptoms, it ignores the invisible problem, which is the addiction that is ravaging lives and leads to homelessness, crime and prostitution. But dealing with the visible symptoms makes some academics, activists and do-gooders on city council feel good.
When activists drive down East Hastings they feel something must be done - people shooting up in alleys, collapsing in the streets requires urgent action. Harm reduction takes them off the street, makes the view better, but doesn't get addicts off drugs.
Harm reduction is a cure for guilt, but not addiction.
If we really want to fight addiction, Abbotsford might be on the right track. Let's invest more in detox facilities and rehab programs, and start sending the right message that drugs are wrong and dangerous. Don't be fooled by harm reduction; don't be fooled by easy fixes to shattered lives.
Let's get addicts off drugs, not just off the streets.