The Opioid Crisis and How to be Part of the Solution
The opioid crisis is ravaging families and communities as overdoses take their toll on habitual and first time users alike. A friend of our family is a case in point. Paul was a habitual drug user. His drug of choice was alcohol. He could not shake his demon. While it kept him on the street, it didn’t stop him from wanting to make a difference in people’s lives. He made our lives richer, was kind to our kids and was the lesson incarnate of seeing the humanity in all of the “people in our neighbourhood”. There was nothing perfect about him – he was no saint of the street – but he was everyone’s equal. Always a handshake and hello. I remember Paul waiving me down in a snow storm to help a perfect stranger who needed a boost for his car. Once the car was boosted, we all went on our ways.
Last fall, after years of dealing with alcohol addiction, Paul tried heroin and was dead within the month. It devastated all that knew him. Over 350 people came to his funeral.
The fact is that while the Calgary Police Service tries to keep a lid on street drugs in our communities, availability and proliferations of new and more potent drugs has increased. The traditional “War on Drugs” has failed.
We need to address addiction as a health issue. If we fail to do so, we will be forced to deal with the consequences of increased HIV/AIDS, Hep C, brain damage and death and the continued economic and social blight on our neighborhoods and their citizens.
The reduction (it will never be eliminated) of the public drug scene will assist dramatically in reducing the cost of drug use on society and reduce harm to the users. Calgary does not set drug or health policy, but it must collaborate closely with all levels of government to facilitate the establishment of harm reduction sites in Calgary.
A Proven Alternative – FOUR PILLARS
Treatment, Enforcement, Prevention and Harm Reduction
I firmly support the Four Pillar approach. In other great cities like Lisbon, Geneva, Zurich and Frankfurt it has been proven that such an approach can reduce the impact of drug addiction. But it needs some reinforcement. The Four Pillars Approach must include:
- The creation of a safe injection site – it works in Frankfurt, Geneva and Vancouver. It can work in Calgary.
- Better funding for prevention, including education of parents and children.
- Treatment facilities outside the Beltline. Let’s not fool ourselves – the problem of substance abuse is present in every neighbourhood in our city.
- City Hall needs to look at ways to collaborate with AHS to ensure rehabilitation services are provided to addicts in their own community.
- Implementation of the equivalent to the Vancouver Agreement in Calgary.
- Work with Calgary Policy Service for a stronger and more effective clamp-down on drug dealers.
- Constantly work with the experts in public health, drug addiction and law enforcement to refine our approach to ensure it is evidence based on the most current information available.