Wednesday, January 17, 2007

THIS, THE FIRST OF 3 ARTICLES, WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED AS "MAYOR WIMPS OUT ON DRUG TREATMENT" ON APRIL 16, 2006 ON www.thetyee.ca. THE NEXT DAY, AND THE DAY AFTER THAT, 2 MORE ARTICLES FOLLOWED EXPLAINING FIRST, HOW I CAME TO MY POSITION ON THESE MATTERS, AND FINALLY, ON WHAT TO DO ABOUT ADDICTIONS IN OUR COMMUNITIES.

I AM RE-RUNNING THESE PIECES TODAY, TOMORROW AND FRIDAY A) BECAUSE THE PROBLEMS ARE STILL OVERWHELMINGLY BEFORE US; AND B) THE MAYOR IS ABOUT TO UNLEASH YET ANOTHER NUTTY PLAN.

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WIRED TO LOSE

A comprehensive examination of How to make the problems of Addictions Even Worse
The first in a three-part series.



Love the guy. Helped get him elected. But, let’s be honest. On this subject, at least, he’s on the other side of the moon. He’s so far out that one day they’ll name a new planet after him.

I speak of the Mayor of Vancouver, Sam Sullivan. And I speak of Addictions. Drugs and alcohol. Heroin, cocaine, crystal meth, booze. Even his handlers have told him to be quiet on this topic. How do I know this? I know because they have told me so.

Nobody in the known world shares the good mayor’s unique perspective. How could they? No one else is in a wheelchair. No one else believes that the wheelchair is the best metaphor for understanding addictions.

And how do I know this? Because I have had this exact discussion with His Honor many times over many years. The last time was on the phone recently when I was verifying my notes taken in his office on the third floor of City hall just before Torino. The first time was in an annoyingly pretentious and mediocre restaurant on West 10th Avenue about five years ago. On that first occasion, I became so angry that I actually jumped up at the table and started hollering. Sam loved this. There is the perennial teenager about him that just gets such a kick out of seeing grown men turn stupid. These days I am calm in the face of his nuttiness. I love the guy. I tell him he’s wrong. And he tells me that one day I will see that he’s right.

Here’s what the Mayor of Vancouver believes about addictions.

“I am in a wheelchair. When I was 19, I did something stupid on the ski slopes and I broke my neck. For quite a while I lay in a hospital bed and bemoaned the fact that now I was a quadriplegic. Eventually, I tired of that. I asked myself “What can I do now?” Here I am years later, the Mayor of Vancouver. It would have been unbearably cruel for someone to suggest that one day I would walk again. I had to face up to my reality and deal with it. And I have.

Now, addicts are like me. They have a disability. And they will always have this disability. It is a waste of time and money to pretend to them and to ourselves that they will ever change. So what we should do is make them more comfortable! Remove the criminality, give them their drugs and let them choose what they do want to do next.”

I told him about The Sobels. Of course, he hadn’t heard of them. But anyone with an even passing interest in the subject of addictions should know the story of Dr. and Mrs. Sobel.

The Sobels were a husband-and-wife team of clinical psychologists practicing at the University of Toronto in the 1980’s. The wanted to prove that they could teach alcoholics how to become “social drinkers.” Their dedication and passion convinced the University to build a “bar” in the department, in spite of the fact that the U of T is smack in the middle of one of the liveliest downtown neighbourhoods in the western world, replete with many a lively joint.

The Sobels spent two years teaching hundreds of drunks to “sip.” Finally they were on the cover of Time Magazine. But not for any of the reasons that they or you or Mayor Sam may have predicted. After two years of work, hundreds of thousands of Canadian tax dollars spent, and much wringing of hands, the Sobels confessed that their work was 1) a complete failure, 2) misguided from the beginning, and finally, amoral!

They said, in effect, “We were wrong to do this. We hurt people. We’re sorry.”

The Mayor was unmoved.

The gist of my discussions with the mayor is this. I want to know if we, in the City of Vancouver, are actively and rigorously working to create Treatment for drug addicts. The Mayor, who clearly believes that Treatment is usually expensive and most often ineffective, dodges and weaves in his answers. What becomes clear is that he has a bias and No Plan.

“I believe we should ask the addict what he needs from Society. The cocaine addict will tell you that if he could chew cocoa leaves, he would get just enough of a fix to keep him from stealing.” This is what the Mayor of Vancouver told me.

When you ask the Mayor to get away from theory and abstractions and tell you in plain English if he is committed to Treatment, if he supports Treatment, if the City has plans for Treatment, if Treatment is high on his agenda, he says the following.

“There are several types of addictions. Some are emotional, some are physical. For some people, this problem will heal itself. In time. Meanwhile, we should keep them healthy, so that when they’re ready they can get back to life.”

So you ask the Mayor again to please be specific and tell us if he has any real plans for treatment. He says, “Give people the tools to manage. Some can do it with abstinence and counselling. Others seem to require a low maintenance amount of drugs.”

You try again to get a comment on Public Policy. Is Treatment high on your agenda as Mayor of Vancouver?

“Yes, but it shouldn’t be paid for by property tax-payers. Drug treatment is not for tax payers.” Huh?

“There are long term problems you can manage,” the Mayor continues, “and problems you can fix.”

But are you putting money into Treatment? How much treatment? What kind of treatment?

“Oh, we’re moving with Coastal health to get more beds, but this is clearly a provincial responsibility.”

Are you vigorously pursuing Gordon Campbell to create Treatment in Vancouver?

“Well, there are many options we should look at.”

In David Lean’s epic movie, “Lawrence of Arabia,” there is this wonderful exchange between Arthur Kennedy playing a journalist and Omar Sharif as a Saudi Prince:

“Did I answer well,” asks the warrior prince.
“You answered without saying anything – that’s politics,” says the writer.

Before leaving for the Winter Games in Torino, the Mayor was heading downtown to meet with five prostitutes. He wants to give them free heroin. Well, nothing’s free, is it? You’ll pay for this, and your grandmother who has to pay for her own needles to inject her insulin will pay for this.

So I say to the Mayor, “Let’s say I agree with this scheme – which, as you know, I decidedly do not – but, let’s say I do. Then what? You’ll give the girls dope, and that will lead to breaking the whole cycle of their street whore culture, jobs, schools, what?”

“Not my concern,” he says. “People gave me the wheelchair. What I did with my life was my problem.”

The Mayor knows that in his case, the notion of “Hope” would be an ugly illusion. He has now projected this idea onto all people with addictions, and for them, he abandons Hope. He offers instead what he considers a comfort.

Cold comfort, indeed.

The Mayor believes that prostitutes’ problems and addict’s problems are insoluble and that these problems should be managed. The Mayor is enshrining slavery.

In the next installment in this series, I will explain how I came to my own position on these issues. In the third and concluding piece, I will outline how some people are trying to help, and how they are hindered at every turn by unwieldy bureaucracies and plain, flat ignorance.

1 comment:

PelaLusa said...

David,

Excellent, excellent, excellent! By the end of your piece I was cheering and screaming, "Of course!!!"

But you know that "nuts" like you & I are in the minority. In the majority are the likes of Sam Sullivan, Larry Campbell, Philip Owen, the entire Poverty Industry in the Downtown Eastside and ... those many, many people that get ALl of their news by reading headlines ... and nothing else.

I wouldn't disagree with Sam Sullivan if the drug addicts were confined to a restricted geographic area like Fort Langley. They could have free drugs, free room & board, etc., as long as they were not allowed to leave until they were clean & sober.

What annoys me to no end is the denial these politicians are in about the enormous damage their "helpless" drug addicts are doing to the rest of society. We're all in fear of our homes & cars being broken into ... and with good reason.

I wish these politicians would take a trip to any 3rd World Country. A quick trip to Mexico City would do. There they'll see ALL homes behind locked gates and the more expensive ones with large walls around them, topped with sharp shards of glass. This IS the future that they ARE taking us toward, for too much kindness without any requisite responsibility from the recipients of said kindness leads to endless problems.