War on Drugs, Eh?
Since 2003, addicts in Vancouver, British Columbia have been able to shoot up with free heroin at a supervised “safer injection facility,” the first of its kind in North America. It has been a success, in the view of the 500 people who use it daily, their downtown east side neighbors (who report less crime), the city government (which sees it as part of its pre-2010 Winter Olympics beautification campaign) and even the cops. Research published in the British Medical Journal, the Lancet and elsewhere shows the facility has helped slow the spread of HIV and cut crime. Counselors available at the site have helped get many addicts off drugs. The same approach has been used for decades in Western Europe.
But conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper doesn’t like it and has enlisted American help to strengthen his case. The Drug Free America Foundation, a Department of Justice-funded, Republican-dominated Florida group that started out as a controversial youth drug rehab program has run a series of reports attacking the center and its “harm reduction” approach on a pseudoscientific online journal. The site, which describes itself “online open access journal” in fact simply runs opinion pieces that attack drug policies the foundation opposes. Nothing wrong with that, but the the Canadian government seems to have been duped into thinking this is actual science.
The Vancouver facility operates under a waiver that prevents the people who run it from being arrested as drug smugglers. Harper has said he may suspend the waiver in June. Canadians are less phobic of such “harm reduction” facilities than us Puritan Americans, but it remains to be seen whether Harper thinks he can win a few votes by shutting it down.
“[The facility] has had a number of benefits, but there are groups who’d rather maintain the status quo than try something new,” Dr. Evan Wood, an HIV epidemiologist at the University of British Columbia who conducts research at the center, told me. “The U.S. is the hotbed of this ‘enforcement first’ philosophy.”