Harm reduction, a safe injection site?

Posted 8.2.17

SHAWVILLE, QUEBEC | It is good news that a safe injection site has been approved for Ottawa's Sandy Hill area, and that Ontario has offered funding. It's important to note that it will be part of an existing drug and alcohol treatment centre, one with a good record on all counts.

The elephant in the room, and not a silent one, are community fears that such a service will attract more drug users and contribute to local criminality. Surveys have shown that this is unlikely.

To a bystander, the opposite seems likely - - that providing a clean and protected site will take addicts off the street and reduce the incidence of drug use, overdoses, public injections, street confrontations, etc., in the city. It will bring addicts into contact with health-care and treatment services.

One big question for us is why has our government in Quebec been so slow to deal with this issue of street-use drugs, the so-called opioid crisis and the constellation of petty crime and confrontation associated with illicit drug use. Aylmer is far from immune.

When we in Gatineau look at our own health-administration mess, it's little wonder they seem unable to focus on this problem. This is a cost to us from that bureaucratic mess, another reason to ask Health Minister Barrette to declare health-services centralization a mistake, and go back to the drawing board, since these officials can't learn from successes elsewhere (for example, in their own back-yard, the Outaouais' rural health centres, before those were decimated by the current rehash of ancient policies).

Our health-service bureaucracy can't deal with new problems if they are remain tangled in yesterday's mistakes.

As with most social problems, street drugs & prescription abuse are complex and difficult. It is a huge temptation to want to give the problem to the police. But that has not worked - - if it did, we wouldn't have these problems. Claiming the police have been under-resourced for this is not a viable excuse. The problems and their causes are so detailed that simple, one-size-fits-all solutions aren't solutions at all - - they are like squeezing the balloon. The difficulties pop out elsewhere.

My own perspective has a little value: I was university-educated in the USA's Midwest, now the infamous rust belt. In my years, this was a prosperous region - - in fact I was amazed when so many Ohio residents assured me their state could actually survive on its own, it was so wealthy and diversified. Now, it is not only full of unemployment and empty storefronts but one of America's biggest meth-war zones, with the horrible damage that causes.

Police work has been fruitless, despite their expensive efforts. American social workers now say a better approach is . They cannot make the problem go away, but they can reduce the harm it spreads across their communities. Ohio authorities see Vancouver's safe-injection site as a model. Why would we say no to that here? Just back from a Zydeco festival in Louisiana, a musician friend was steamed up - - about garbage, not music. "When the music was over and everyone rolled up their blankets, the venue was 10 inches deep in trash! Wasn't our generation past all that?" (expletives omitted).

He noted the trash cans, often emptied, were ignored by many. People finished their beers and "just tossed the cans on the grass". Take-out cartons, programs, wrapping, bottles and cartons - - "a three acre field of trash."

He concluded too many of us still don't consider our environment, and, although that was the States, he cited awful examples here at home. No respect.

Another visitor this spring commented that kids - - even Millennials - - don't show much respect for their elders. "One of my son's friends, a professional guy, told me that senior citizens 'have to earn my respect'!" Our visitor was still annoyed: "Those seniors raised him - - isn't that enough?"

Apparently not. And it would be interesting to know if there's any link between the lack of respect for our environment and lack of respect in family and civil-society matters. It's now common to tie this attitude to Trump's "screw-you" style, but surely it's older than the latest celebrity-president.

Here, there's been such an effort create an environmental sensitivity, that it's hard to picture Canadians mimicking the Zydeco fans. We do use trash cans, and pick up after ourselves. It's common to see folks carrying a plastic bottle or item retrieved from a walk on the beach or a trail.

Larger evidence of environmental disrespect is in the way we cut down trees or pave over almost everything. In the way we approve mining, logging, pipeline and drilling projects - - Trudeau's approval of drilling in the Gulf of St Lawrence preserve, the latest obscenity. Canada's progress isn't sterling on these scales, even if we're good at most picnic sites.

Respect for others, elders in particular, is a different kettle of fish. Of course elders deserve our respect - - they did raise us! And it must have been a hell of a job, fighting off the hucksters selling music, drugs, movies and clothes (for starters) to kids. Our national sport of consumerism is where the two types of respect intersect.

But, yes, respect is a two-way street. Respect comes after responsibilities are met, and we all do have responsibilities. Elders who have little to say other than platitudes they've heard on TV aren't going to generate much respect, nor those who rag on about modern fads (forgetting their own generation's silliness).

I'm all for respecting elders, being one, but all for elders also paying their respects - - to the environment, to others, to changing ideas and styles. A little more respect all around, by everyone, to everything (like Buddhists), would be a healthy thing. Respect is a web, and it keeps our entire society afloat. It's social grease.


Copyright © 2017 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/8.17