Fighting Fire With Heroin
The most intuitive and logical approach to a problem is not guaranteed to yield the best results. Sometimes, it takes the exact opposite to produce those, and that’s just what the city of Vancouver is attempting. Struggling with a heroin problem for years, the city needed to find a solution that works consistently. Traditional rehabilitation works, yes, but only to a certain level and it is not reliable for getting the job done. With this in mind, the city sought to tackle their issue in a different manner. And they chose a way that was slightly…counterintuitive to the norm.
Instead of seeking to cure their addicts, Vancouver chose to accept the addictions that exist and opted to diminish the effect of the drug’s presence in their city as opposed to attempting to eliminate it. Traditional rehab has failed them, so they have created their own form, facilitated by Vancouver Coastal Health. The aim of these new “health centers” is to provide a safe site for heroin users to inject themselves with their daily dose of smack under strict supervision by healthcare professionals. In addition to providing a safe environment for addicts to dose themselves, the facilities also provide clean needles for use, something that is not always a commodity for all users outside of the program. In essence, it is hoped that through continual usage of this program, drug violence in Vancouver will decrease overall and the heroin problem with lower in its potency.
It is commonly worried that these clinics will inevitably have unwanted side effects that could make the problem even larger than it already is. For example, what if these sites, which undoubtedly provide easy access to an otherwise illegal narcotic, actually cause a raise in addiction? A 32-year old heroin user named “Cherie” was interviewed by CTV News Vancouver about her time with the program and revealed some startling news. She said she was indeed a heroin user before being introduced to InSite, but not very regularly because of how hard it was to obtain the drug. However, she says that with how easy InSite made it to get her fix, she became “suddenly addicted” and began visiting the site multiple times each day. This highlights a potential downside of the program, especially considering, “Cherie says she was asked at the door if she was an IV drug user, and she said she was. But she says no one asked her how long she had been using the drug, or if she considered herself an addict.” Many like to believe that this is indicative of a poorly managed program, that InSite lured Cherie into their program only for her to become the type of addict that the heroin clinics were originally designed to prevent. In reality, the program was only doing what it was intended to do: provide a safe atmosphere for addicts to inject themselves. True, the methods used to admit any given individual into the program may require slight manipulation as far as credit and possible documentation are concerned, but in no way is the program actively a detriment to the citizens. If one does not wish to shoot up and become addicted to heroin, they must acknowledge the risks the drug poses and simply not become involved with it whatsoever. InSite has done nothing to provoke this.
In order for a program to achieve maximum effect, it must be operational for a long period of time, causing kinks and bumps to be worked out with time, essentially a trial and error process. The InSite clinics have been in operation since 2003, which is hardly a sufficient amount of time to judge their effectiveness. However, the effectiveness has already been fully criticized by people like Jim O’Rourke, executive director of Vision Quest Society, a recovery society for addicts. He is a firm believer of classic rehabilitation as the sole method for fixing an addiction problem in society. What he fails to acknowledge are the strides that InSite has made as a program in aiding heroin addicts. Just in 2012, there were a recorded 376,149 visits to the site with over 9,000 of those visits being unique. This raw data alone shows that the program is indeed growing as far as attention is concerned and requires more time before it is fully judged on its capabilities. Additionally, there were approximately 400 admissions from InSite into Onsite in 2012. OnSite is a branch off of InSite that deals more with withdrawal management and the recovery process of using drugs. So, the heroin clinics are not addiction traps after all. They are showing an increasing number of patients that are actually recovering from their addictions and making their way towards drug free lives.
Not everyone is guaranteed to make it to the recovery stage. What of those that don’t make it to this step? Are they forever doomed to be heroin addicts for the rest of their lives, stuck in a perpetual cycle of attending InSite centers every single day? Not necessarily. While the choice to overcome an addiction is generally one made by the addicts themselves, life in these clinics is far from a downward spiral. The original goals proposed with the Four Pillars drug program, being the values of harm reduction, prevention, treatment, enforcement, saw that gave InSite one straightforward mission to accomplish. The drugs were controlling the city in a way, causing violence in the streets and an altogether negative reputation to fall on Vancouver. InSite strove to make Vancouver a better place, hopefully lessening the amount of drug life present on the streets. The hope lay within the notion that with addicts not having to focus on where they are getting their next fix, let alone if it will be safe, that they will be able to place focus on other aspects of their life, such as holding down a steady job.
In addition to not having to worry about where or when they are getting their next dosage, addicts enrolled in the clinic program do not have to worry about the potential for disease. Normally, drug use on the street may consist of sharing needles or using other questionable material. “Liane,” another individual taking advantage of the InSite program, says that the program, “relieves the pressure of shooting up behind rubbish bins, or using dirty puddle water…” The sites provide each patient with a clean needle and a safe place to inject themselves. This is essential to providing a happy, healthy environment for recovering addicts.
A key aspect to the eventual success of the program is embedded within the users of the drugs themselves. They are the driving force behind everything, and therefore have the ability to create both success and failure. This being said, the most happiness should be coming from them if a program is truly successful. For if this is true, then certainly something is being done correctly. “Steve,” another addict interviewed this time by CNN, has been using InSite on a regular basis for multiple years. He says that, “It’s still in my hope that maybe I can get clean. I’m only 48. And that’s why these places … it’s just, it’s common sense! When you have a problem that’s grown for whatever reason to the epic proportions that it has in this city, it’s time to come up with a really good solution, and this is it.” Judging by this statement, he is overjoyed with the program and believes it is a real solution. Going so far as to call it “common sense” should signal that at least one party finds some form of success with this program.
The InSite method of establishing heroin clinics is groundbreaking in North America, but it is far from that in other European countries, namely Switzerland and Great Britain. These countries have already seen results on the positive spectrum, in the form of reduced street drug use and related crime. This is only more reason to initiate the program and allocate funding towards its cause. It is almost as if part of the trial and error process, the broad aspect at least, has been accomplished overseas. The results speak for themselves. The only obstacle that remains in the path to success is the Canadian government and their stubbornness to continue with this direction. Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper released a statement in 2005 announcing, “We as a government will not fund drug use.” He makes the broad association that InSite is on the same level as illegal drug use and treats it as such in his release. When in reality, it is obviously serving against illegal drug use. The government’s obstinate behavior highlights why it is difficult to achieve progression. With their hindrance on this movement comes a lost opportunity to find change like what has been found in other countries.
In time, hopefully the public will realize the benefits that InSite and Vancouver Coastal Health are offering. Their program is groundbreaking in nature, and only through time will it be proven as a solid strategy for limiting drug use in Vancouver.
- Campbell, Bradley. “Vancouver Combats Heroin by Giving Its Addicts the Best Smack in the World.” Public Radio International. PRI’s The World, 9 Feb. 2015. Web. 03 Nov. 2015.
“User Statistics.” Vancouver Coastal Health. Providence Health Care, n.d. Web. 03 Dec. 2015.
“Four Pillars Drug Strategy.” City of Vancouver. N.p., 30 Apr. 2012. Web. 03 Dec. 2015.
Woodward, Jon. “Heroin Addict Says Insite Trained Her to Use.” CTV News Vancouver. British Columbia, 26 May 2011. Web. 03 Dec. 2015.
Katic, Gordon, and Sam Fenn. “The Methadone Split: Cracks in Vancouver’s Treatment Pillar.” The Tyee. Gossamer Threads, 19 Sept. 2014. Web. 03 Dec. 2015.
Maguder, Natasha. “Addicts Shoot up in Safe Haven in Canada.” CNN. Cable News Network, 12 Apr. 2013. Web. 03 Dec. 2015.
Faure, Gaëlle. “Why Doctors Are Giving Heroin to Heroin Addicts.” Time. Time Inc., 28 Sept. 2009. Web. 03 Dec. 2015.