Talking “tough” on drugs is something many politicians seem to love doing as it is the one thing they tend to get away with, especially during an election campaign. From a societal perspective, there is very little sympathy for those whom are addicted to substances. Too often, addiction is still seen as a sign of weak morals or poor life choices. Yet, this is an overly simplistic perspective. There are many roads to addiction. Some are the result of recreation gone wrong, while others, are caused by the medical profession or happen as a result of PTSD. A case in point would be the patient in chronic pain who receives a prescription for opiate painkillers, who then becomes addicted to them. When the prescription runs out, the addiction remains, and then, gets driven underground (ie: the street). Unsupervised use of IV drugs not only paves the way to overdoses that can lead to death, or costly emergency interventions, but also to infections transmitted due to unsanitary needle techniques which are both viral (Hepatitis/ HIV) and bacterial (staph infections). An ER visit due to a drug overdose in Ontario costs taxpayers $150 for the hospital visit, and $195 for the Ambulance fees. If there is follow up care due to the above-mentioned infections, it is potentially even more.
The In-Site/On-Site program in Vancouver, BC is an example of a program that uses “Harm Reduction” as an effective tool to help people recover from addiction after they have fallen through the cracks of society’s social/medical safety nets. It is the only one in Canada. In-Site/On-Site helps to prevent the ER visits, and infections that result from poor needle usage, and connects drug users to the resources and help that they need when they are ready for it. In 2002, the societal per capita costs (what all taxpayers pay) of illegal drug abuse (not including tobacco and alcohol) were $262. The national health care costs this represented were $1.13 billion, the law enforcement costs were $2.33 billion and research/prevention (of which In-Site is a small part) was $16.5 million. As we are on the cusp of a federal election, and everyone’s eyes are on the economy, perhaps now is the time for politicians to stop demonizing addiction and spend our tax dollars effectively as prohibition hasn’t worked thus far.