Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre was recently in Vancouver, speaking about substance abuse. He criticized the offering of a safe supply of drugs to some addicts and decriminalizing some drugs, both fairly new initiatives, which he promised to end. He called it all a “failed experiment”. How can he know the “experiment” has failed? It has barely begun. He foolishly ignores the many years- long and successful change in Portugal, where drugs are decriminalized and addicts are helped in the health care system and not made incorrigible in the criminal justice system.
A simplified version of the conclusions of professionals studying addiction, including bio-chemists, psychiatrists, addictions counsellors and neurobiologists, in the last twenty years or so, is that addiction is the efforts of a human brain unable to find its normal brain chemistry balance, because of prior trauma to the individual. Addicts’ brains, deprived of normal brain chemistry, turn to stimuli outside the body, including tobacco, alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling and shopping, to attempt to find an otherwise unattainable balance. Two things follow from this. Firstly, the stimulus does not cause the addiction. If it did, every person who ever drank one alcoholic drink would be a raging alcoholic, every person who once attended a church bingo would be a broke, desperate, ruined gambler, and every person who used prescription pain medication would be a hard core drug addict. Secondly, in light of the above, criminalizing drugs and drug use is truly the “failed experiment”, to which Conservatives seem addicted.
Mr. Poilievre also refuses to support safe injection sites, where addicts inject street drugs under medical supervision. He says “ the existing overall system has failed.”. This is wrong. He is wilfully blind about this because, since the first supervised injection site opened in about 2005 there have been tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of medically supervised injections and not one death. Out on the street, six to seven thousand Canadians a year die from contaminated drugs sold by criminals. If he will not understand the importance of such numbers, he seems to be as callous as the criminals, while proving his “everything is broken” mantra is merely a shabby slogan masquerading as thought.
Lastly, Mr. Poilievre agrees with Alberta’s approach to substance abuse by being “treatment-focused”. This coldly means treatment for those lucky enough to survive deadly street drugs. Compassionate conservatism? No, because dead people don’t need treatment.
Gregory R. Côté, Irvine