BY REV. HARRY LEHOTSKY
The recent furore about government-funded crack pipes says much more about the reduction of care than the reduction of harm.
My beef isn’t with the notion of curbing HIV and Hep C. I’ve seen the impact of both and don’t want to lose any more people to debilitating diseases.
But cheap pipes and chapped lips are just one of many ways people engaged in a deadly addiction contract deadly diseases. Many will still get, and many already have, the diseases.
What makes me increasingly suspicious is the very selective manner in which many addiction activists show their care for addicts.
They verbally and strenuously defend the distribution of government crack pipes. But they are strangely silent when government, via the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, cuts treatment programs for addicts. Addicts need help. They’re dying for it. But when they decide to get help, they are told about long waiting lines for treatment.
It’s ironic that an addict wanting to come into treatment might be told to wait two to four weeks but might immediately get a free government crack kit from an outreach worker encouraging him to get treatment.
How can anyone who professes care for addicts sit by silently while already inadequate services to addicts are cut? Where’s the indignation then? Where’s the public outcry?
True advocates for addicts would never accept the political doublespeak which asserts that closing treatment beds and laying off treatment workers does nothing to diminish care for addicts.
Can it be that these agencies and activists have been well trained not to bite the hand that feeds them? They all get their funding from government. Many live in fear of the WRHA, which has more of an interest in serving the health of its political masters than the masses.
No agency or activist seems willing to speak out against the hypocrisy of the funder to whom they owe their very existence. As a result, many dedicated professionals have stopped advocating for the addicts and have been reduced to facilitating a slightly less harmful addiction.
Addicts need treatment. But while they cut already inadequate treatment programs, the WRHA wants a medal for “reducing harm” with government-approved crack pipes! The WHRA’s approach to addiction is a mockery to any sense of intelligence or compassion.
This is one of the reasons I’m getting more and more concerned about the WRHA. A bureaucratic behemoth, it has been devouring an increasing number of mandates and agencies as a means of justifying the existence of obscenely salaried office staff. No one agency can deliver all that they purport to do for people. Especially not as a monopoly!
Harm reduction in this context is more a distraction than a service. The “crack kits” are a convenient red herring to distract us from decreasing options for treatment.
But those complicit in this conspiracy of distraction and silence are the helpers silenced by fear of their funder. The danger is that preservation of their own employment supercedes their care for addicts. The resounding silence of those who “care” for addicts is not adequately compensated for by funding distribution of government crack pipes.
Government is twisting the truism that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Harm reduction is good but it doesn’t replace treatment. Yet that’s exactly what they’re doing. It’s like handing out Band-Aids to folks who need stitches and antibiotics. Harm reduction should not be used to distract the public from noticing the lack of treatment.
What disturbs me most is that I believe these people know better. Part of appeasing their guilty consciences is to narrow the definition of harm reduction and say that it applies primarily to preventing the diseases contracted and transmitted at the point of drug consumption. These harm reduction advocates are strangely silent about the countless incidents of harm before the sale, during the deal, while under the influence and while desperate for another dose.
Harm reduction without the possibility of harm elimination through treatment is no comfort for families of addicts lost to the drug or victims of addicts desperate to lie, cheat or steal their way to their next rock.
By the time addicts approach me about quitting, they’ve likely tempted death for a while. It’s not unusual for them to have lost their kids, been disowned by their families, perpetrated and suffered a wide variety of crimes, considered or attempted suicide and lost almost all hope of change.
So, when someone finally comes for help, it’s sickening to hear them being told to wait for weeks or months to get into a treatment program. They come looking for harm elimination through treatment, and it’s disgusting to think that all the WRHA is prepared to offer is a harm reduction “crack kit” while they’re waiting.
I’m not opposed to the prevention of HIV and Hep C. My beef is not necessarily about what’s being offered. It’s the sickening silence about what’s being withheld.