New National Anti-Drug Strategy plays politics with people's lives
TORONTO, Oct. 1 /CNW/ - The new National Anti-Drug Strategy to be
officially unveiled this week by federal Health Minister Tony Clement is a
huge step backward for Canada's response to HIV/AIDS, said the Canadian
HIV/AIDS Legal Network today.
The new strategy funds law enforcement, prevention and treatment programs
- three of the four so-called "pillars" common in many drug strategies. But
the fourth pillar, harm reduction - which includes needle exchanges, methadone
clinics and safe-injection facilities - has been eliminated.
"The federal government is ignoring widely published scientific evidence
on the value of investing in harm reduction programs," said Richard Elliott,
Executive Director. "It seems clear that the new drug strategy is based on
ideology instead of evidence, and from every angle - human rights, public
health, or use of taxpayers' dollars - that's irresponsible and unacceptable."
Even worse, Minister Clement is sowing confusion by claiming that other
measures, such as law enforcement, constitute harm reduction in their own
"This is just smoke and mirrors," said Elliott. "The reality is that some
people can't or won't stop using drugs. Harm reduction pragmatically and
realistically acknowledges this fact by providing evidence-based programs and
services to lessen the harms associated with drug use. Arresting and
imprisoning people can't be considered harm reduction."
The new drug strategy apes the failed U.S. approach of treating drug
addiction primarily as a criminal matter, rather than a matter of public
health. But despite spending billions of dollars on its "war on drugs," not a
dent has been made in reducing either drug supply or drug consumption in the
United States. Rather, the establishment of "get-tough" criminal approaches to
drug addiction has filled U.S. prisons with non-violent, often small-scale
Relying on criminal law inevitably also leads to increased fear, stigma
and discrimination. As a result, many people hide their drug use, which
usually means avoiding the public health and harm reduction programs that
could help treat them. Insite, Vancouver's safe injection facility, is one
"The facts speak for themselves: Insite has lowered the rates of
syringe-sharing and deaths from overdoses, reduced the risk of HIV and
hepatitis C transmission, and increased the chances of directing drug users to
addiction treatment services," said Elliott. "Instead of mounting a public
misinformation campaign, Minister Clement and his government should be sharing
these facts with Canadians to explain why funding harm reduction programs like
Insite is a responsible investment in public health."
About the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network
The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network (www.aidslaw.ca) promotes the human
rights of people living with and vulnerable to HIV/AIDS, in Canada and
internationally, through research, legal and policy analysis, education, and
community mobilization. The Legal Network is Canada's leading advocacy
organization working on the legal and human rights issues raised by HIV/AIDS.
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