Kash Heed: We can’t arrest our way out of BC’s drug problem

Opinion: A balance between public health and social order is fundamental to any strategy. Drug addicts are not a lost group, they have an identity, they have stories. It’s not just a few more dead junkies.

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I briefly hesitated before writing this op-ed after the ignorant, vile and racist comments directed at my family and me from some people who oppose Richmond City Council exploring a humane approach to addressing the lethality of addiction , primarily, exploring the idea of ​​a supervised consumption site as part of a continuum of care. My hesitation lasted only moments after hearing some of our political leaders make irresponsible and ill-informed statements related to BC’s decriminalization pilot project. His statements resemble the rhetoric launched by some of our neighbors to the south, where the politics of division play out daily.

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From my decades in law enforcement and years in government, I know that having an honest discussion about drug policy remains extremely difficult and has innate risks: heated debates, disagreements, bitterness, and sometimes hysteria. Stakeholders, subject to their different worldviews, ideologies and frames of reference, challenge other stakeholders. Pure reason competes with politics in shaping the government’s response.

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This is not a problem that arose overnight, and it will not be solved overnight: the war on drugs is at least 50 years old, as we all know.

Politicians find it difficult to liberalize their approach to drugs: any politician who advocates for more liberal laws or approaches to drugs risks being portrayed as supportive of drug use. Many are reluctant to openly discuss the issue and several are worried about the prospect of losing their voter base, regardless of the oath they have taken.

As we further politicize the debate due to the upcoming election in British Columbia and the prospect of a federal election next year, many politicians and critics are emphasizing law enforcement to win the war on drug use.

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Progressives, on the other hand, suggest increasing services for those who are addicted because it is primarily a health issue. They believe that, at its core, the criminal justice system is irrelevant because it addresses only the symptoms of underlying social problems, while the solution to drug addiction is large-scale social change.

Interestingly, there is a growing consensus among members of law enforcement that drug dependence is primarily a health issue rather than a legal issue. Previously, in Vancouver, police officers had broad discretion to arrest people with addiction problems when they were found in possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use. Known as de facto decriminalization, it was in place for more than three decades in Vancouver: police had the authority to direct users to where they could (or could not) consume their drugs. This was a key concept when I worked with then-Mayor Owen and Donald MacPherson open North America’s first supervised injection site in Vancouver.

Drug use is one of the country’s most difficult and complex problems, but we must refuse to accept the idea that solving it is somehow out of our reach. Unfortunately, the inability of the “system” to respond to immediate needs creates a huge credibility problem for any anti-drug strategy. Asking a drug addicted individual to be patient when in crisis and wait for an available space to detox and receive treatment is, frankly, a waste of time. The opportunity to intervene is lost and the addicted person will see “the system” as useless and ineffective. Repeated experiences of this type simply reinforce the idea that he or she cannot initiate change. And the cycle repeats.

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Developing strategies to address “outdoor” drug use is a central theme of all plans to revitalize areas suffering from urban decay. We know that the pharmaceutical industry is simple and profitable. Its simplicity makes it relatively easy to organize; Its profitability makes it difficult to stop. People who make huge profits running criminal enterprises distance themselves from street activities. Law enforcement is, at best, capable of displacing and controlling the market. The police’s priority is to stop the threats to public order and security that drug use can bring. Law enforcement everywhere should affect drug supply and use. However, increased efforts by police to stem the flow do not appear to have discouraged drug purchasing or use.

In addition to their effects on health, drugs cause other harm, not only to the individual but to society in general. Drug users disproportionately commit crimes. Given the cost of a heavy habit, crime is an obvious source of income. When drug use directly harms society, the police are right to intervene. However, the best way to protect society is not necessarily to increase law enforcement. If that were the correct course of action, police would pursue alcohol users, who engage in far more aggression and misconduct than users of other substances, licit or illicit.

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There needs to be a willingness among all levels of government to come together to develop and implement a coordinated and comprehensive framework for action that will help address BC’s drug problem appropriately and effectively. The balance between public health and social order will be essential for its success. This approach should highlight what is required from all relevant stakeholders, including the very people who have the problem.

It should clarify that people who have an addiction need ongoing care, while clearly stating that social problems related to “open-air” drug use must be stopped.

We cannot arrest our way out of our drug problem. The best way to address this problem is to be proactive and educate young people before you start. For those who are addicted to drugs, we must try to help them through intervention and treatment, and if we cannot help them stop, we must try to reduce the harm that their addiction will cause them and, consequently, society. This means accepting and respecting the fact that addicts are people too. They are not a lost group, they have an identity, they have stories and they can lead useful lives. It’s not just a few more dead junkies.

Kash Heed spent 32 years in law enforcement, where he held senior positions in gang and drug enforcement before becoming British Columbia’s attorney general. He is now a Richmond city councilman.

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