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How do we battle addiction?



Global News reported Monday that as part of a government push to stem the abuse of and growing dependence on opioids throughout Canada, federal law will soon further open up access for treatment. Specifically, the article noted that “Forthcoming legal changes will allow patients to access, when appropriate, prescribed heroin outside of a hospital setting, such as addiction clinics, making it easier for them to balance their treatment with daily responsibilities.”

There is no lack of vocal critics when it comes to the liberalization of drug laws in Canada, and regardless of how little observable traction the promised Liberal legalization of marijuana has or has not gained in parliament, the issue comes up invariably when legal change is discussed.

Firstly, we need to acknowledge the very real and sobering realities of an opioid epidemic which threatens to fundamentally change the social and physical landscape of our society. We also need to take a deep breath and really heavily evaluate the situation. How is it that we’ve gotten to this point?

As he stares down the equally destructive American counterpart of the opioid crisis which, according to the government of Canada, claimed at least 2,800 lives in 2016 throughout this country, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week instructed American prosecutors to take a more active stance in combating the problem, and recommended, among other things, “The pursuit of capital punishment in appropriate cases.”

The approaches of both countries in dealing with the epidemic, each shockingly different from the other, espouse critically different attitudes that we need to address as we try to tourniquet the flow of life taken in both countries.

We can be harsh on drugs (which, let’s not kid ourselves here, means being harsh on drug users), and spend the GDP of some small countries positioning ourselves through policy, propaganda, and police action, against our most vulnerable population. Anyone so desperate to alleviate their natural suffering that they turn to opiates (or having been prescribed opiates, develop a mental and physical dependency which they then either alleviate or perish from) cannot possibly recuperate from their condition inside a cell.

So what do we do?

Drug decriminalization as a start takes the resources otherwise poured into patrolling and policing a population wracked by pain and addiction, and frees them up for allocation elsewhere.
A good next step would be the creation of a specifically designated syndication of aid and care workers, tasked with (and, once again for the folks in the back, fairly compensated for) providing assistance en-masse to those so deep in their addiction that they cannot at this moment see anything stable to grasp.

Then come the arguments asking how such a wide-reaching service would be coordinated and funded. My first suggestion is to nationalize every energy corporation operating in Canada for a one-year period. We’d probably have enough finances then, and, after all, a year’s not too long.
For some, this is too extreme. The next best alternative is to show compassion always, and in every interaction.

Look, at the end of the day, things will happen whether or not you do anything about them. If I sit for long enough, what’s in front of me will change. But if all I feel is animosity towards those caught in the thick of addiction, and do nothing but voice my disdain for their condition, I other them, and further fuel their need to find solace in the very substance that’s responsible for their deteriorating condition.

I don’t know, man. I don’t think there’s a clear answer. My suggestion is: next time you see someone living through destitution, stop for a minute. Learn their name. Just be with them for a moment.

The only real truth is that if you only ever treat an addict as such, that’s all either of you will ever see.

Image: Alpha Stock Images

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