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Editorial: Addiction-based harm reduction is not enabling

You may be asking yourself, what does this have to do with the Bow Valley? Since in this part of the province we do not have a supervised consumption site for those struggling with the disease of addiction, and neither is one proposed. But as human beings, and residents of this province, we shouldn’t be so arrogant as to assume this issue does not affect us all and very likely someone we know and love.
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With a new provincial government in the Legislature, it is fair to expect to see officials engage in a process of reviewing programs and services now that the United Conservative Party is in power.

We have seen panel after panel announced to look at everything from the kindergarten to Grade 12 curriculum to provincial finances.

But as Albertans, we have also seen a review announced on supervised consumption services in the province. 

You may be asking yourself, what does this have to do with the Bow Valley? Since in this part of the province we do not have a supervised consumption site for those struggling with the disease of addiction, and neither is one proposed.

But as human beings, and residents of this province, we shouldn’t be so arrogant as to assume this issue does not affect us all and very likely someone we know and love.

Addiction is a disease that does not discriminate. Who you are does not prevent you from having this disease. You can be rich or poor, from Canmore or Calgary, of any denomination or background and still be affected by this disease. 

And we know that addiction and overdoses due to fentanyl are plaguing communities across North America at the present moment. Supervised consumption sites, which provide a safe place and safe ways for those addicted to drugs to use them, are not a new concept. 

They are, in fact, also known as a strategy for harm reduction. What an interesting concept. Instead of letting people who have a  diagnosable disease suffer, usually while they also struggle with poverty and homelessness, we as a society help them get better.

On Aug. 30 it was International Overdose Awareness Day and it is an important reminder that harm reduction is meant to reduce overdoses and deaths due to the consumption of these drugs. 

But harm reduction in this manner goes beyond just having a safe space for people with addictions to drugs to use them. It is also about connecting these people, who are sons, daughters, mothers, fathers and still loved and valued human beings, to resources that can help them get better.

Battling addiction is more than just telling someone or expecting them to just stop using the substance they are addicted to. Addiction and mental health advocates, researchers and workers have long known harm reduction is a proven strategy to help people get better. 

The fact of the matter is that if someone overdoses and dies, they have zero chance of getting better. So preventing overdoses is ground zero for recovery from addiction. 

Recently, the Alberta Community Council on HIV released a report on the impacts of supervised consumption sites and it shows they save lives. Sites in Alberta have responded to 4,300 overdoses and there have been zero deaths. 

If only all government programs had such a success rate. But this data does not seem to be enough to solidify supervised consumption sites as needed and necessary, and hence, we see a provincial review. 

We have also seen irresponsible comments from the Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Jason Luan, who recently stated he was concerned that access to Narcan or Naloxone, which reverses fentanyl overdoses, could enable people to use more drugs. 

We should all be concerned that the direction this government is taking could undo these successful programs because it would result in preventable deaths. This would be negligent on the part of this government and it should be cautious of reversing these programs because they would then be liable for those lost lives. 

Albertans need to speak up and let them know that human lives are more important than anything else. Valley residents can take part in this review by submitting their written feedback to scs.review@gov.ab.ca or by completing an online survey at www.alberta.ca/scsreview. 

Harm-reduction saves lives, it does not enable addiction. It opens the door to recovery for many. 



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