Pubdate: Mon, 14 Dec 2009
Source: Prince George Citizen (CN BC)
Copyright: 2009 Prince George Citizen
Author: Evan Wood


As a result of the well known linkages between crime and drug
addiction, heavy handed approaches - which emphasize law enforcement
over public health - can be particularly appealing. Whether it is
unsafely discarded needles or drug-acquisition crime, everyone has a
right to be concerned about the community effects of drug abuse and
law enforcement has a key role to play in responding to the drug
problem.Unfortunately, from a scientific perspective, several of the
suggestions outlined in your recent editorial (Northern Health
Follies, Prince George Citizen, Dec. 3) will only worsen the drug
problem in Prince George.

First, with respect to your denigration of harm-reduction programs and
the suggestion that Prince George's needle exchange be closed, your
editors must not be aware that these programs have been endorsed by
literally every international scientific consensus body including the
World Health Organization.These programs reduce overdose deaths and
have proven cost-effective because they prevent costly infections like
HIV, which health economists have shown cost Canadian taxpayers more
than $250,000 per case. Countless studies have also demonstrated that
needle exchange programs reduce unsafe syringe disposal and thereby
improve community safety.

In light of this widespread international evidence, it makes no sense
to link supporters of harm reduction to those that recommended
"deinstitutionalizing mental health." Rather than being criticized,
Northern Health should be applauded for helping to reduce publicly
discarded syringes and prevent the spread of HIV infection in the
community because the closure of the needle exchange would undoubtedly
exacerbate these concerns.

While I must always voice my strong support for those law enforcement
officers that risk their lives in an effort to improve community
safety, the reality is that scientific support for drug law
enforcement is much less clear. In fact, the need for public health
approaches that partner with law enforcement is clearly demonstrated
by the fact that in Prince George - like all North American cities -
massive investments in law enforcement have been unable to stem the
flow of illegal drugs.

If The Citizen really wants to reduce the public health and community
harms of drug addiction, it should promote a comprehensive approach
which places equal emphasis on prevention, treatment, law enforcement
and harm reduction. Ideological views that are unsupported by the
scientific facts and practical reality on the streets only make the
problem worse.

Evan Wood MD, PhD

Director, Urban Health Research Initiative BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS 
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