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Tug of War on Drugs

Forty-thousand casualties smeared the battlefield in Solferino, Alegeria on the 1859 summer day when Swiss businessman, Jean-Henri Dunant arrived. Alongside local citizens, he mobilized medical support for soldiers on both sides and came to advocate that all countries form voluntary relief societies to help the wounded during war and peacetime.

That idea is credited for what we now know as the Red Cross.

When the Red Cross came across the pond, its American founder, Clara Barton pleaded for humanism from an inhuman landscape.

“What armies and how much of war I have seen, what thousands of marching troops, what fields of slain, what prisons, what hospitals, what ruins, what cities in ashes, what hunger and nakedness, what orphanages, what widowhood, what wrongs and what vengeance.”

What a beautiful eulogy her words would make for the War On Drugs this continent came to fight over the following century.

As Prime Minister Stephen Harper defended Canada’s marijuana prohibition laws this summer, the debate stung of a rally cry from an old general who’s lost touch with the army he commands.

“We’re very concerned about the spread of drugs in this country and the damage it’s doing and as you know, we have legislation before the House (of Commons) to crack down,” Harper said.

As it stands, Canada’s fight against drugs looks a lot closer to that of Red Cross than “cracking down” and as he knows, the government employs most of its soldiers.

In Kenora, the OPP leads a “four pillar” strategy Dryden is now emulating that has brought agencies together to keep addicts away from the expensive prison option and into care, counseling, specific drug courts and a residential alcohol treatment program based on one launched by the homeless shelter in Thunder Bay.

From the city where one in every 1,000 people are actively being served methadone, Thunder Bay’s Mayor and former police association leader, Keith Hobbs suggested hosting a safe injection clinic last week based on Insite, a project producing medically-proven results in Vancouver.

It merits reiterating that these solutions are coming from cops, the people we think of as the front line in the War On Drugs.

As if disconnected from this reality, the federal government is cutting anti-gang programs with proven track records in Winnipeg, imposing mandatory sentences for drug possession and has drafted a bill aimed at closing Insite.

“The party’s over,” former Health Minister, Tony Clement famously said in 2007, as if homeless drug addicts were cruising through lives we wish we had.

Northwestern Ontario not only has higher self-reported drug use among youth than the rest of the province but is ahead of the curve in making the connection between mental health and drug addiction as it has veered from enforcement into treatment.

Starting with Pikangikum, Sioux Lookout’s youth mental health crisis response teams now fan the Far North. Those complement eight residential treatment centres that bring culturally appropriate services to remote First Nations and strengthen their capacity.

Meanwhile, another former Minister of Health, Leona Aglukkaq not only signed off on allowing generic manufacture of Oxycodone in 2012 but only months later, sought help from American drug enforcement to confront Oxy trafficking in Northern Canada.

You’re never going to go out of business treating addiction and it’s fair to judge the approach as establishing a self-perpetuating industrial complex around coddling drug users. Even private companies have sprouted methadone clinics in Dryden and Thunder Bay “markets.”

The choice, however, isn’t between supporting or not supporting a social safety net for people who are sick from addiction. It’s between supporting a service industrial complex or a prison industrial complex.

If our healers support treatment over punishment, if our courts support it, if our First Nations and municipal leaders support it, if our police officers and our social workers support a holistic continuum of care, exactly who – beyond our politicians — is on the other side of this argument?

The War On Drugs is far from over but the soldiers in the trenches are over it. It’s time to care for the casualties on all sides.

 

2 thoughts on “Tug of War on Drugs

  1. You guys have an awesome reporter/writer in Jon Thompson. I know this because I used to live in Kenora reading his articles religiously. Don’t let him go guys!

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