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?