Wednesday, March 13, 2013


Harm reduction just keeps addicts enslaved

Jon Ferry

Photograph by: Graphics, The Province

The UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs is meeting in Vienna this week to recommend measures to combat the world drug problem.

But in Vancouver, the war against illegal drugs appears to have been won already by those who favour "harm reduction," with its publicly funded crackpipe kits, safe-injection rooms and "free" heroin and methadone fixes.

This does little more than apply a Band-Aid — as opposed to abstinence-based treatment, which actually gets people off drugs but is frowned upon by the politically correct powers-that-be.

No, the current mantra among grant-hungry activists, medical researchers and politicians is to feed the need, not starve it — which is why as many addicts as ever roam Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

However, I think abstinence may well be making a comeback. And I'm heartened to see two celebs, one local and one international, giving it a new cachet.

British comedian Russell Brand, songstress Katy Perry's ex, said in Britain's Spectator magazine that he believes in abstinence-based programs in helping addicts/alcoholics stay clean and sober. He also wrote eloquently of his addict friend, singer Amy Winehouse.

 "What was so painful about Amy Winehouse's death is that I know that there is something I could have done. I could have passed on to her the solution that was freely given to me. Don't pick up a drink or drug, one day at a time," he said. "It sounds so simple, it actually is simple, but it isn't easy — it requires incredible support and fastidious structuring."

Brand says that, without a structured recovery program, he'd still be taking drugs. "Because even now the condition persists," he noted. "Drugs and alcohol are not my problem — reality is my problem. Drugs and alcohol are my solution."

The local celebrity is David Berner, former actor, former Province columnist and current public-affairs host on Shaw community TV.

Berner has just published All the Way Home, a must-read book about how in 1967 he started Canada's first residential treatment centre for drug addicts and alcoholics in Vancouver — and how, based in Winnipeg, it continues to turn out sober/clean citizens to this day.

Berner is a natural storyteller. And it's the ex-cons and other colourful characters he describes that make the book a page-turner.

But he also disses harm reduction and says he doesn't believe addiction should be treated as a disease requiring ongoing treatment by high-priced doctors and nurses.

What's really needed, he says, are recovery centres run by ex-addicts, social workers and psychologists at a fifth of the taxpayer cost ($50,000 as opposed to $250,000 a year).

"Addictions, properly understood, are an emotional, psychological, social, behavioural and spiritual problem," he noted.

Berner and Brand are both witty, accomplished guys with a wealth of addiction experience. Governments in B.C. should listen to them.

The success rates for abstinence programs may not be high (never much more than 50 per cent), but they do help scores of addicts become drug-free. Keeping them on drugs, as the harm-reduction theorists advocate, simply keeps them enslaved.

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