Needle exchange an unmitigated disaster

Friday, October 19, 2007
Forensic psychiatrist Dr. Shabehram Lohrasbe, who has an office in the area, says the exchange is a neighbourhood nightmare of filth, confrontation and constant threats of violence.

I write out of concern that the desperation, exhaustion and fearfulness of the citizens who work and live near the Cormorant Street needle exchange has not come through clearly enough. Frustration can come across as insensitivity, a lack of compassion or a kind of NIMBY attitude, which would be very misleading.
Many of us who encounter the unhappy souls who struggle with addiction are not unsympathetic to their plight. I work regularly with the addicted, the homeless and the mentally ill in our province’s prisons.
For those of us who observe the devastation of a neighbourhood in the name of a social experiment, resentment is focused not on the unfortunates, but on those who planned and implemented this disaster, including our mayor and council. We are exhausted and outraged by their failure to deal with the unsurprising consequences of simply providing needles to a group of people who need much more.
It is the restraint of those who have tolerated this abandonment of civic responsibility that has kept things from getting out of control.
Let me provide one example, a mild one. Not long ago, a man barged into my office, demanding to use the washroom. Having been burned by acceding to a similar demand in the past that resulted in needles and blood in my washroom, I refused and asked him to leave. He did, walked outside and then urinated on my door, aiming at the door handle.
Consider my options. Should I call the police? Or physically push him off my property, risking being doused by urine or stabbed by a needle? Should I risk a shouting match and possible retaliation?
So he walked away smirking, with no fear of any consequences. I washed the door before my next patient arrived. This on a day that started with me scooping diarrhea embedded with needles off my front steps.
Used needles, human feces, discarded underwear, assorted condoms and other unsanitary byproducts of addiction are frequently deposited on properties in the neighbourhood. After earlier protests, the city installed a “porta-potty” outside the needle exchange. That lasted but a few days, apparently because of the refusal of those who have to clean the toilets to deal with the needles and other paraphernalia jammed into them.
Trained workers understandably refused to face the health risks, yet citizens are left to their own devices.
We have asked for toilets, increased policing, assistance in regular cleaning or tax relief so that we can hire our own crews and private security. Our pleas have gone nowhere and the mayor has not responded to my last letter.
In it, I have told him that if the lawsuit over the injection site fails, my neighbours and I will have no choice but to erect tall fences topped with barbed wire along our streets. This is what it has come to in our once-beautiful city; citizens are left to wall themselves off, prison-like, in a downtown area.
Since I spend a good part of my work week in prisons, it is not especially harsh for me, but for a 70-year-old pensioner who grew up in a city where she once walked fearlessly, it is utterly disheartening.
I am outraged by the complacency of those who seek power and responsibility and then do nothing when faced with a crisis.
I work here, but many senior citizens, some handicapped, live here. Many are unable to sleep at night, never mind take a walk. They are intimidated by the arguments and yelling, the confrontations and their increasing fears of violence.
The fears of those who bear the brunt of this disaster are not exaggerated or misplaced. The needle exchange is a gathering place for addicts and the predators that they inevitably attract. It is the latter group that is becoming increasingly prominent and more confrontational.
Drug dependence, especially on short-acting opiates, creates desperate cravings, often several times a day. There is a clear relationship between substance abuse and criminality, including acts of violence.
There are three broad ways in which alcohol and drugs influence crime and violence. The first is physiological, through a direct effect on mental functioning, when disinhibition of behaviour, including aggressive behaviour, is common. The second influence is due to the financial needs of the addict. Finally, there is the “business” aspect of addiction, the turf wars between dealers and others who prey on addiction.
By funnelling a large proportion of the city’s drug-related crime and disorder into a small neighbourhood, those responsible for this disaster have absconded from their responsibility for follow-through with services for the addicts, protection from the predators they attract and basic services for the citizens left to cope with the crime, filth and public disorder.
The “service” of providing needles ends before sundown when the needle exchange shuts down, leaving the addicted with no support, supervision, food or water, protection from predators, shelter or toilets.
Where do the politicians and planners think these people go to shoot up, steal money for their next hit or next meal, sleep, urinate, rant and rave, intimidate, vent their fury against the society they believe has abandoned them and destroy property and peace-of-mind?
Invited to bring their suffering and their rage to a particular spot, then left to their own devices, they inflict their despair and their frenzy on a small group of citizens who have been left to cope with the predictable consequences of “injecting” a crime-prone subculture into what was once a beautiful, pleasant and safe neighborhood.

Source: 19th Oct.2007

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