We are enabling addicts to live a life worse than death

By Joey Thompson, The Province

If you’re ticked at the fact Vancouver’s supervised injection site has done little to convince addicts to kick the habit you won’t like what I have to say about the city’s so-called drug treatment court.

The program on West Pender Street in downtown Vancouver is almost halfway through a four-year, $3.6-million drive to help junkies get clean so they aren’t compelled to nick grandma’s jewelry or your sound system, and yet home and business break-ins as well as auto-theft rates are as high, if not higher, around here than they’ve ever been.

That could explain why no one from government has been trumpeting the project’s successes despite the offer to addicts of free counselling, out-patient therapy, training and education, courtesy of taxpayers and a parade of well-meaning defence lawyers, prosecutors, probation officers, court liaison workers and addiction counsellors.

So why don’t do-good programs work here?

The recovering addicts who replied to last week’s column know only too well. Barry Joneson, a member of the drug court’s community consultation board, says his life as a Burnaby businessman is a far cry from his earlier world on the dank, greasy concrete behind a dumpster in the Downtown Eastside. It was the will to change, not access to handouts, that turned him around.

And that’s the problem. There’s no incentive for junkies to straighten out. The few who are arrested on our streets rarely see the inside of a cell. As Cordova Street dweller John Parsons put it, “judges don’t lock up here.”

Indeed, why get clean when life is cushy and you have liberal use of free medical and social services as well as drugs?

Addicts here have it too good, these two say, unlike the dire straits many in the U.S. find themselves in. They face serious time there if convicted. With fewer options, U.S. drug users are apt to take an offer of help more seriously.

“But in Canada, down and out means you see a doctor and go on disability [hep C, HIV, bad back, sore toe, etc.] and then get on the methadone maintenance program,” Joneson said. “It’s a junkie’s dream come true; someone pays your way in life and gives you drugs as well.

“It has nothing to do with compassion and everything to do with the birth of an industry that caters to addicts through the various services available to them. There are billions upon billions of dollars to be made and that’s why it is such a powerful pro drug/less consequence lobby.”

But Joneson warns we are enabling addicts to live a life that is arguably worse than death.

” I know. I lived that life for over 20 years,” he told me. “And I’m sure glad there were no government shooting galleries or free heroin when I was using, as I probably would not have hit the bottom that was necessary for me to instil the desire to seek recovery.”

Source: The Vancouver Province (British Columbia) E-mail: jthompson@png.canwest.com September 24, 2004 Friday

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