Thursday, October 6, 2011


Gerry Verrier is a friend. He is former addict, who for 25 years now has been involved with the Behavioural Health Foundation in Manitoba. He is currently the Program Director.

This piece is also posted as a comment on my blog item of several days ago, called "Stranger in a Strange Land," but it is so darn good and so important, I wanted you to read it as a stand-alone editorial.

I am a former addict that will stand up and say that I do not support Insite or needle exchange programs. If there had been safe injection sites back in the 70s, I would be dead. All the brick walls I ran into that said "Gerry, you need to stop using drugs or you will kill yourself, Gerry you need to stop committing crimes to feed your addiction because you are hurting a lot of people and you will rot in jail, Gerry you contribute nothing to your own community and are a free loader" made me think about who I was, what I was doing and where I was heading in life. It caused cognitive dissonance for me. It made me consider whether my mother brought me into this world to shame her and become a drug-addled train wreck. It made me consider that my new condo would in fact be a prison cell in Stony Mountain Penitentiary and that my "better half" was probably going to be called Bubba. I was judged and I was deemed to be deficient in appropriate and anti-addiction social and coping skills by a group of former addicts. I was expected to change and I was expected to contribute to this beautiful country in a meaningful way. I was also consequenced for my bad behaviour. I actually welcomed the criticism. I welcomed the idea that I could stop using life destroying drugs. I needed to hear that so badly. I welcomed the idea that people thought enough of me to expect me to start to be a positive member of society. I felt good and I felt accepted. I felt like I could accomplish something meaningful and could enjoy some success in my life.
Had Insite existed, I would have heard something like "Here, Gerry, now now, it's okay that you're addicted to morphine, here let me help you stick that needle in your vein and don't worry about overdosing because I won't let you. Don't you worry about me telling you to quit IV drugs, because you can quit whenever you want. I don't expect you to though, because you have a sickness just like cancer and diabetes and you're an addict for life, you poor hapless misunderstood defenseless creature. And don't worry about the big bad police, they can't come in here and they can't bother you outside either while you go on the nod on the sidewalk. In fact, we have doctors who want to give you free heroin. Isn't that wonderful news? You see, the people who want you to quit don't understand you like we do. We know that if we give you a free rig and a place to shoot up and make sure you don't overdose, you won't go out and have unsafe sex and we know for sure that you won't use or share dirty needles."
I would have moved into that clinic. I would have laughed all the way to my dealer's corner and back. No consequences for bad, harmful and antisocial behaviour? No consequence for spreading fatal and life threatening disease? Drug injecting paraphernalia that I don't have to pay for? No expectation to contribute to my community to balance out my constant freeloading? No consideration given to the fact that I stole 15 purses and robbed an old lady for her grocery money so I could score on the way to Insite? An addicts heaven. I would have happily cranked so much junk, my eyes would have bulged. Malnutrition? No biggie. I'll get free and expensive Boost supplements from my doctor. Organ failure after a dozen years of injecting poison into my body? No problem in our free medicare system. Heck, I bet I could get a nurse to come inject my heroin while I wait for an organ transplant. Work for a living and pay taxes? I have a disease, I can't work. In fact, I'll take some disability cash over and above my regular welfare payments. I'll also need some taxi chits so I can get to Insite. I have a disease, don't you know. And be quick about it, or else I will sic the harm reduction people on you.

And with all that, do you really think I'm going to start wearing condoms? Do you really think that at 3 in the morning, when I need a fix, I'm going to wait until the clinic opens at 10 am so I can shoot up with a clean rig? I AM going to have sex with this person and I am not going to wear a condom and we are going to share this rig because we don't give a fuck about nothing but getting off. I don't need to care because, really no one else does. No one expects any better of me, no one believes in my potential ability to contribute in a meaningful way and no one seems to care that I'm slowly killing myself. After all, I have a disease and I will always be an addict so I might as well be a really good addict. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go steal so I can buy more heroin. I sure wish they would hurry up with that free heroin program....

I know some addicts and homeless people are struggling with mental health issues. I know some addicts are messed up because of trauma in their life. They need medical treatment. They need support. They need the right kind of medication. Heroin is a painkiller, and a mind number. It and other addictive illicit drugs exasperate mental health issues and certainly does nothing for trauma victims. Addiction does not promote self esteem or self confidence. There is no success or accomplishment or education in a needle filled with junk. Addiction does not provide hope. Addiction kills, Addiction sucks the life out of our communities. Addiction shortchanges our children. Addiction enslaves our brothers and our sisters and our grandchildren. Addiction adds costs to our already expensive health care system that need not be.

Providing for addicts to continue to be addicted is anti-social. Not expecting our addicted brothers and sisters to contribute to the betterment of our society and community is anti-social. Helping an addict stick a needle in his or her arm is anti social. Harm Reduction as it is applied to addiction is anti social.

I had to laugh but felt like crying when I read on the International Harm Reduction Association website how the Reductionists were upset that abstention-based treatment programs were using the term "Harm Reduction" and that expecting addicts to quit using is not Harm Reduction. The Reductionists wanted to reiterate that Harm Reduction means working with people who do not want to change. How twisted is that?


Jeff Taylor said...

As I read Mr.Verrier's blog posting, I couldn't stop thinking about what would happen if a group of people raised and pooled some money to pay for Mr.Verrier's exact words to be printed in the Vancouver Sun & Province - full page. Can you just imagine the shit and conversation(s) it would stir up ? Or how about the eyes that just might be opened. Many, many, many people in the general public have never heard the other side of this issue - especially from a former addict. I for one (and my partner) and we are far from wealthy but would contribute money towards a newspaper ad containing his words. I suspect there's hundreds, maybe thousands of other that would be willing & able to contribute.
The last paragraph in Mr.Verrier's posting regarding the term Harm Reduction, sums up exactly what has happened in our society and just how absolutely crazy it has become. So often the left or the poverty industry will sink to any level to keep things just the way they are - screwed up !

Gavin. said...

This should be posted everywhere possible.....Facebook, Twitter etc. and forwarded as Mr. Taylor stated to all the major newspapers in the hope that someone would have enough sense to publish it. Perhaps we could pay a group of people to poster the DTES with this article and also mail it to the poverty pimps, politicians, judges and the misguided souls in the medical profession and elsewhere that have bought into this shameful exercise in self-delusion.

Canadian Canary said...

No consequences. Exactly. That's it in a nutshell.

And the same thing happens with prescription drug abuse. Doctors allowed to dispense whatever they want, elderly people in nursing homes drugged into stupors by staff who find it "convenient". No consequences for them either. So the abuse continues, the misery is compounded and festers.

Both the legal and illegal drug trade is fueled by the same twin evils: huge profits and no consequences for the perpetrators. I mean the big, powerful ones, not the 6-marijuana plant horticulturalists. [Harper doesn't seem to care about interfering with the real drug kingpins, either in the illegal drug trade or the pharmaceutical drug trade. Odd, isn't it, for someone who professes to be Mr. Law and Order?]

Some people need more help than others to steer clear of drugs; some find themselves in intolerably painful circumstances and desperately grab at drugs for relief from their reality. Regardless, they would all benefit from a helping hand, not an opportunity for another fix.

And, I'd gladly see my taxpayer dollars go for that rather than to enrich the pockets of already too wealthy lawyers, or corporations that prey on the public under the guise of free market enterprise.

Thanks Gerry Verrier for telling it like it is or, thankfully, was, in your case. Happy Thanksgiving.

Evil Eye said...

Addiction = big profits for very few people and I do not see anyone providing the funds to actually wean people off drugs. It's cheaper to provide Insite, rather curing the problem.

I see no end to this debate, because people in power and people of power are making far too much money on the lowly addicted. It is easier to abuse the poor, the halt and the lame as well as the addicted person, than to stand up and demand and ante up the money to help end this festering sore of the DTES and its addicts.

I would wager that a forensic audit of some of the most wealthy people in this province, would show that they have been living off the sale of illicit drugs and have laundered the money in such a way that it is deemed clean money made from hard work.

The government and the media for that matter, would be embarrassed at who is actually reaping the massive profits from illegal drugs.

Insite just provides the camouflage for the truth.

Anonymous said...

According to our neighbour's son, two years ago his friend, who was 15 at the time and is now 17, went to InSite because he wanted to experiment with injecting drugs and he wanted the equipment he needed to do so (I'm guessing, because this is what is on their website, that he was given "clean injection equipment such as syringes, cookers, filters, water and tourniquets". He was given this equipment, no questions asked. Now, apparently he was told that because he wasn't an addict he couldn't inject at InSite but was given the paraphenalia to take away. I'm sure he didn't tell the good people at InSite that he just wanted to try injecting drugs as a sort of life experience, but nonetheless, could this possibly be true that they gave him the equipment to take away and with no questions asked? I don't know -- it sounds so far-fetched but our neighbour's son says it happened. He also said that this boy, who grew up in a good family and formerly lived in Point Grey, now lives in the Downtown East side and is addicted to drugs.


Anonymous said...

As someone who had both their parents die from addiction by the time I was 21 I can attest to the damage done to families.
I also had to listen to the claptrap of 'they can't help it, they are sick, they have to hit bottom'
That was over 30 YEARS ago.
It hasn't gotten better since.
I am just so grateful that when I was faced with another disaster (a young person related to me) I had met people that told this person that there was a life without addiction and that they could live it!

And they are.
They are not wandering around the DTES looking for their next fix.

David Berner said...

Dear Mo,

This story is completely possible and true.

We know a 12-year iold girl in Winnipeg who asked for a clean needle. She has never used heroin, but she wanted to see what would happen.


They didn't give her a needle.

They gave her a BOX of needles!!!

I will run your comment and an expanded version of my response on a new post when the long weekend is behind us.