Sunday, September 29, 2013


The following thoughts were sent in from Al Arsenault, our friend and colleague with the Odd Squad and the Drug Prevention Network.
The 'successes' just seem to  keep rolling in. I wonder what the costs are for making drug use acceptable and even 'safe' for we all know that when the perceptions of risk about using drugs  goes down the amount of use goes up. Also, what does it cost in terms of the loss of human potential to keep people stuck in their active addiction rather than to reclaim that proud and productive person which  lies dormant within the empty shell of a human being who us addicted to these poisons?

They consider the saving of a few people from the sea of diseases to be worth it all when legions of lives can be resurrected from the dirty and deadly cesspool that the  (now soft-lipped) crackers now flounder in.

They say that we, who are willing to lead them into  (ill-funded) treatment, lack compassion. 

I cannot wait until the day that the SIS 'studies' have been debunked as pure scientism so that we can forge ahead with real and meaningful salvation instead of Band-Aiding these poor souls to death. Perhaps this is but a pipe dream.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The News Ain't All it's Cracked up to between the lines.

There is a full page article in the Vancouver Sun today serenading the opening of the new Mental Health & Substance Use facility at Surrey Memorial Hospital.

(Note that we always say Substance Use. If a fella were to accidentally say "Substance Abuse," he might find himself in solitary confinement.)

This symphony of excitement tells us about The 8,000 visits that will surely appear and the wonderful toys and the millions of dollars expended on this new miracle.

But when you read the fine print, as any buyer must, you find this note about the new staff: a specialist in substance use services.

Make that  "a" as in ONE.

One designated genius to handle substance use and abuse issues.

Now, this is progress.

This is how authorities move forward.

Congrats. Slap yourself on the back a few more times.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Addicts Don't Need InSite, They Need Support

This piece in the Huffington Post, written by Kathryn Marshall, lawyer, columnist and political commentator, was sent to us by Sean Heaney who runs a wonderful and dedicated small recovery centre on the east side of town.

Last week's controversy over Health Canada's funding of a program to give heroin to select addicts is like déjà vu. It's an awful lot like the conflicts the federal government has had with similar drug programs over the years. The Insite supervised injection clinic in Vancouver's renowned Downtown Eastside is the most famous example, where addicts can go to inject heroin under the supervision of nurses. Centres likes these are sometimes called "safe injection" sites, which is truly an oxymoron considering that these harmful drugs are anything but safe.

There has long been a debate raging in Canada over how best to help people who are addicted to dangerous, illegal drugs. It's been played out in the court rooms and among politicians and policy makers on repeat, yet we don't seem to be getting closer to actually helping addicts in the Downtown Eastside recover.

All it takes is one trip over to the Downtown Eastside and you can see for yourself that centres like Insite are doing little to get the addicts off the street and into places where they can get off drugs and get their lives on track. Arguably, places like Insite are actually making addictions worse by enabling the drug use and sending the message that it's "okay" to use drugs, so long as it's done "safely."

The Downtown Eastside is an extreme example that represents only a small part of the problem. Drug and alcohol addiction are serious problems in communities across the country that often exist in privacy behind closed doors, not in full view on street corners.

Marshall Smith is an addiction expert who knows first-hand what it's like to be stuck in the depths of an addiction. Ten years ago he was a successful political staffer with a bright career ahead of him. Then someone offered him some cocaine, and he was instantly hooked. His life derailed and he spent years living as a homeless addict, including in the Downtown Eastside. Smith recovered, and is now the Manager of Corporate Development and Community Relations for Cedars at Cobble Hill, an addiction treatment center on Vancouver Island.

According to Smith, in order to craft a successful strategy to deal with addiction, government policy makers need to be talking to people who have actually beat their addictions and are living in long-term recovery. "If they want to help individuals and communities recover, they need to listen to people in recovery from this disease. They need to ask people in recovery how they got well and what is required to successfully support yourself in recovery" says Smith.

The problem that Marshall sees with current drug policies and programs is that they are focused on the maintenance of people's addictions and disease prevention, not on the recovery. The questions policy makers seem to be asking is "how can we make it safer for addicts to do drugs?", not "how can we get addicts off of drugs and help them get their lives together?"

So instead of developing more recovery programs, more programs are developed that give addicts access to drugs and tools that keep them stuck in the depths of their addictions.

Neal Berger, the Executive Director of the Cedars Cobble Hills Treatment Center, is calling on the government to fund and execute a national research study on people who are living in long-term recovery from their addiction. He sees real value in studying people who are successfully managing their illness. It's this valuable insight that can lead to effective policy to help addicts achieve recovery.

Berger is encouraging the government to sit down and talk to people who have overcome their addictions. "Like many other diseases, addiction is a chronic illness that needs to be rigorously managed through participation in recovery focused programs" says Berger.

Smith likens this approach to any other strategy one would employ to beat a disease, asking "can you imagine building a cancer strategy without engaging cancer survivors?"

Getting addicts into recovery is easier said than done. Smith knows all too well the challenging road it takes to get there, and a system that enables addictions certainly doesn't make it any easier. A system that actively pushes addicts towards recovery and draws on the real experiences of those who have recovered could make all the difference.

Saturday, September 21, 2013


PAM McCOLL, who iss the local push behind SAM - Smart Approaches to Marijuana - has set this Letter to the Editor, which the Sun will publish  tomorrow or Monday.

Harper needs to stop cracking jokes and take responsibility for embarrassing the nation.

Early this year UNICEF revealed that more Canadian kids smoke marijuana than anywhere else in the western world and the Prime Minister is cracking jokes about Sir John A. MacDonald
and his( Harper's)  own sobriety.

A UNICEF report released in the spring of 2013 ranked Canada first out of 29 countries on the percentage of young people smoking pot. 28 per cent of the 11 - 15-year-old Canadian children surveyed said they had smoked marijuana during the last year. This is an embarrassment for our country and a very sad comment on the effect the Harper government has had on prevention and education. This is a public health crisis and political pundIts are arguing over legalization and decriminalization when the majority of the pot market is under age and will continue to be regardless of effort to legalize. The legalization of marijuana could well increase access and availability to the youth market and enhance not dilute the criminal distribution of pot in this country.

CNN ( Anderson Cooper ) news reported that in the State of Colorado three young people died from synthetic marijuana use and 150 were hospitalized this week but that went pretty much unreported in this weeks Canadian media.

Few of the 90% of Canadians who don't use marijuana understand what legalization or decriminalization looks like and the discussion needs to move to what commercialization, and normalizing marijuana would mean to our kids. Anyone who downplays the risks and harm marijuana poses to youth will at some point in the near future be called out. In the meantime where on earth is Health Canada and the advocates for public health in this country ? Politicians sit down until this country has had a change to discuss this in depth and say no if someone asks you to sign a call for referendum at this time.

Thursday, September 19, 2013


Is InSite Really All It's Cracked Up To Be? 


Ten years ago this week, Insite, North America's first supervised drug injection site, opened at 139 East Hastings in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, thanks mainly to two men, Dr. Julio Montaner and Thomas Kerr of the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS.

It's an amazing story.

Since 2003, folks in Canada's most drug-infested neighbourhood have been buying heroin, cocaine and crystal meth on the street, strolling into InSite and shooting-up under the watchful eye of government nurses. All in the name of harm reduction, a philosophy of addiction treatment through enablement.
How'd they do it?

Early last decade, Montaner and Kerr lobbied for an injection site. In 2003, the Chretien Liberals acquiesced, gave the greenlight to B.C.'s Ministry of Health, which, through Vancouver Coastal Health, gave nearly $1.5 million to the BC Centre (that's Montaner and Kerr, you remember them) to evaluate a three-year injection site trial in Vancouver.

Voila! InSite was born.

If the three-year trial was successful, or in other words, if InSite's chief lobbyists, who received $1.5 million from taxpayers to study its pros and cons, concluded that InSite was a good fit for Vancouver, the provincial government would consider funding it in perpetuity. Amazing.

Through Freedom of Information legislation, I obtained a copy of the $1.5 million contract, which tasked the BC Centre to "evaluate the process, impacts and economic elements" of InSite and note "any adverse events that may occur."

Yet every study produced by the BC Centre since 2003 has cast InSite in a positive light. Every study. And the BC Centre is very protective of its conclusions.

For example. In 2009, the BC Centre released a report summarizing 33 InSite studies, all co-authored by Thomas Kerr, all singing InSite's praises. At that time, I interviewed Kerr who bristled at my questions, claiming that his researchers "passed the test of independent scientific peer review and got our work published in the best medical journals in the world, so we don't feel like we need to be tried in the popular media."

I asked him about the potential conflict of interest (lobbyists conducting research) and he ended the interview with a warning. "If you took that one step further you'd be accusing me of scientific misconduct, which I would take great offense to. And any allegation of that has been generally met with a letter from my lawyer."

Was I being unfair? InSite is a radical experiment, new to North America and paid for by taxpayers. Kerr and company are obligated to explain their methods and defend their philosophy without issuing veiled threats of legal action.

In the media, Kerr frequently mentions the "peer review" status of his studies, implying that studies published in medical journals are unassailable. Rubbish. Journals often publish controversial studies to attract readers -- publication does not necessarily equal endorsement. The InSite study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, a favourite reference of InSite champions, appeared as a "letter to the editor" sandwiched between a letter about "crush injuries" in earthquakes and another on celiac disease.
Yet Kerr thunders away like Moses. Where did he obtain this astonishing sense of entitlement?
Two words: the media.

The reportage on InSite by Vancouver's print and broadcast media does not meet, by any definition, basic standards of professional journalism. It's been shameful.

When the BC Centre stages a press conference, it's always the same formula. A handful of Kerr-authored studies and an obligatory recovering addict who owes his life to InSite. The reporters in attendance nod along and write or broadcast the same story with the same quotes and BC Centre statistics.
If a story involves an InSite skeptic such as Dr. Don Hedges, an addictions expert from New Westminster or David Berner, a drug treatment counsellor with more than 40 years of experience, it almost always includes a familiar narrative propagated by the BC Centre. InSite opponents are blinded by ideology; conservative moralists who care little about the poor and addicted. InSite proponents, on the other hand, are pure and unburdened, following the facts and relying on science.

Really? What kind of "science" produces dozens of studies, within the realm of public health, a notoriously volatile research field, with positive outcomes 100 per cent of the time? Those results should raise the eyebrows of any first-year stats student.

And who's more likely to be swayed by personal bias? InSite opponents, questioning government-sanctioned hard drug abuse? Or Montaner, Kerr and their handful of acolytes who've staked their careers on InSite's survival? From 2003 to 2011, the BC Centre received $2,610,000 from B.C. taxpayers to "study" InSite. How much money have InSite critics received?

There has never been an independent analysis of InSite, yet, if you base your knowledge on Vancouver media reports, the case is closed. InSite is a success and should be copied nationwide for the benefit of humanity. Tangential links to declining overdose rates are swallowed whole. Kerr's claims of reduced "public disorder" in the neighbourhood go unchallenged, despite other mitigating factors such as police activity and community initiative. Journalists note Onsite, the so-called "treatment program" above the injection site, ignoring Onsite's reputation among neighbourhood residents as a spit-shined flophouse of momentary sobriety.

Where's the curiosity? Where did these reporters learn their craft? The BC Centre won't answer your questions? Then ask the politicians who, unlike Montaner and Kerr, operate inside the bounds of democratic accountability.

If InSite works in the Downtown Eastside, Mayor Robertson, why not Dunbar, Mount Pleasant or West Point Grey? If, God forbid, you had a child who became addicted to drugs, Minister Lake, would you refer him to InSite? Premier Clark, your government funds InSite yet shuns many abstinence-based treatment programs. Why? And so on.

For the record, my opposition to InSite is based on the countless conversations I've had with Downtown Eastside residents over the past decade, as a journalist, volunteer and friend. In my judgement, public money is better spent on treatment and recovery facilities outside the neighbourhood, which is where the vast majority of addicts settle when they finally decide to quit using drugs.

Ten years later, despite any lofty claims, for most addicts, InSite's just another place to get high.

Monday, September 16, 2013


Monday, September 9, 2013


 This just in from RECOVERY NATIONAL COMMITTEE MEMBER, Dan Rathwell, who did fantastic work for all of us and especially for the City of Ottawa.

Many thanks and congratulations, Dan.


That was the floor at Queens Park in Toronto...not at Parliament Hill in Ottawa...

In Service,

Daniel Rathwell CCADC, SAP
Substance Abuse Professional



A beautiful record of yesterday's wonderful gathering is offered here by Dr. Bill Hay. The piece includes words and many delightful pictures and a video.

Friday, September 6, 2013


Every thing a person needs to know about our big event this Sunday can be found here.

Except for this late breaking news.

RECOVERY DAY is now an officially declared Provincial Proclamation here in British Columbia.


Thursday, September 5, 2013

Marijuana Not a 'Safe Drug,' Review Finds

While so much of the privileged world finds a quantum of solace in the move to legalize pot,  The Odd Squad's Al Arsenault discovered green heaven ain't exactly all it's cracked up to be:

THURSDAY Sept. 5, 2013 -- Contrary to popular belief, marijuana is not a "safe drug," particularly for teens, a new review reveals.

Researchers found that marijuana (cannabis) could be especially harmful for teenagers, since it affects the addiction processes in their developing brains. The findings are troubling since marijuana is a popular drug among teens, the researchers added.

"Of the illicit drugs, cannabis is most used by teenagers since it is perceived by many to be of little harm. This perception has led to a growing number of states approving its legalization and increased accessibility. Most of the debates and ensuing policies regarding cannabis were done without consideration of its impact on one of the most vulnerable population, namely teens, or without consideration of scientific data," study authors Didier Jutras-Aswad, of the University of Montreal, and Dr. Yasmin Hurd, of New York's Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, wrote in a news release from the University of Montreal.

They added, "While it is clear that more systematic scientific studies are needed to understand the long-term impact of adolescent cannabis exposure on brain and behavior, the current evidence suggests that it has a far-reaching influence on adult addictive behaviors, particularly for certain subsets of vulnerable individuals."

Marijuana interacts with the brain through chemical receptors situated in the areas responsible for learning and management of rewards, motivated behavior, decision-making, habit formation and motor function. Since the structure of the brain changes quickly during adolescence, marijuana can affect how these traits develop, the researchers noted.

In their review, they examined more than 120 studies on various aspects of marijuana and the teenage brain, including the biology of the brain, the brain's chemical reaction to marijuana and the influence of teens' genetic make-up and environment. They also analyzed previous studies on the "gateway drug" phenomenon, or an association between marijuana use and later addiction to other serious drugs and psychosis.

"When the first exposure occurs in younger versus older adolescents, the impact of cannabis seems to be worse in regard to many outcomes such as mental health, education attainment, delinquency and ability to conform to adult role," Jutras-Aswad explained.

Only about one in four teenage marijuana users will become dependent on the drug, which suggests that certain genetic and behavioral factors play a role in whether or not the drug use will continue, the researchers found. They added that marijuana dependence can be inherited or result from other psychological factors.

"Individuals who will develop cannabis dependence generally report a temperament characterized by negative affect, aggressivity and impulsivity, from an early age. Some of these traits are often exacerbated with years of cannabis use, which suggests that users become trapped in a vicious cycle of self-medication, which in turn becomes a dependence," Jutras-Aswad said.

The researchers concluded that marijuana is not harmless, and genetic or psychological screening can help identify those at greatest risk of abusing the drug.

"The objective is not to fuel the debate about whether cannabis is good or bad, but instead to identify those individuals who might most suffer from its deleterious effects and provide adequate measures to prevent this risk," Jutrus Aswad said in the news release.

"Continuing research should be performed to inform public policy in this area," added Hurd. "Without such systematic, evidenced-based research to understand the long-term effects of cannabis on the developing brain, not only will the legal status of cannabis will be determined on uncertain ground, but we will not be able to innovate effective treatments such as the medicinal use of cannabis plant components that might be beneficial for treating specific disorders."