I’ve been silent on this issue for far, far too long. But after hearing yet another diatribe from a local Ottawa-based broadcaster, Lowell Green (CFRA radio), I’ve decided to respond.
First off, a word about Mr. Green. Although his politics and mine differ greatly, he has demonstrated a compassion (albeit subtle) for those in his community who are afflicted with illness and others who are less fortunate. His are the views of the oppressed Conservative; views that have their Genesis in the traditionally liberal Canadian political climate and say in a loud voice that Conservatives have and deserve a place of prominence. Many find his views, and if not his views – certainly those of many of the callers to his radio show "cooky" and often dismissive, pea-brained, racist and even hateful. But there is no denying a good portion of the population sympathizes with Lowell. And not just on the inflated municipal tax rates or frustration at the frequent gaffes of the distant provincial political establishment in King’s Park that overlooks Ontario’s second-largest city, and Canada’s capital. There may even be a majority that buys into his views concerning the City of Ottawa’s efforts to deal with a drug addiction epidemic that many feel is more caused by rather than cause of the city to distribute clean needles to addicts. Green’s view is that it doesn’t work, that such programs actually generate higher rates of drug addiction and related infections of disease – and he cites studies that show he’s right to prove it.
The trouble is, he’s either not sincere in his convictions on this subject or he’s simply deaf to the overwhelming evidence that contradicts his position. I won’t go so far as to say it’s sloppy journalism, because he might also have seen these same studies, but contests their validity on some as yet unspoken premise or on something he calls "the harm reduction industry". Still, anyone who does a Google search on "needle exchange harm reduction success" will get literally thousands of hits, the vast majority of which are links to methodologically-sound medical studies on needle exchange programs which show conclusively that such programs more often than not reduce infection rates for both HIV and Hepatitis-C. And I myself have even taken him up on an open invitation to forward him studies of this sort which demonstrate, rather conclusively I would think, that his position is, in fact, wrong. Yet he continues to broadcast his view, and give over a large microphone to those who share his view or some variant thereof; frequently tainted with either some kind of religious zeal or otherwise grotesquely oversimplified view of what is both a serious, and actually complex issue.
Ironically (and perhaps hypocritically), Green also likes to pick on scientist and activist David Suzuki for his views on the environment. Among Green’s favourite critiques of Suzuki is that he was basically "crazy" for recently advocating the detention of anyone who suggested that the Greenhouse Effect remains a scientifically unproven phenomenon. And yet there we were on today’s program where Greene himself seemed to be advocating that very same fate for drug addicts; arguing it was a simple matter of offering a detained addict a choice to accept mandatory treatment for their addiction or be sent to jail where "they wouldn’t be getting any more drugs". Of course, the trouble with that view is that it’s been tried – and obviously not resulted in an acceptable rate of success, at the very least. In fact, I can state from my own experiences and those I know as drug addicts that there’s absolutely no way you’re ever going to mandate treatment. Others who are as learned on the subject tend to share this view. And the nature of drugs and being addicted actually makes it harder for an individual to stop, or people would just do so – surely this is a product of common sense. And you don’t need to be a drug addict yourself to get this concept: everyone knows quitting smoking is hard and that many try and fail several times before succeeding. Why should quitting heroin be any easier? So why is Green lecturing Suzuki for wanting to toss people in jail for disagreeing with his views, when he’s essentially doing exactly the same thing?
Sadly, I don’t think Green is aware of this. He contends – ever blind to the realities that confront drug addicts, clearly making little or no attempt to really understand – that he’s right with is one or two studies, but the rest of the scientific community is just out-to-lunch. Even more frustrating is watching the turmoil that continues in the lives of those I know who suffer from addiction (it really would take too long to go into here) while this view – this lie that is effectively political views as medicine driving the agenda and perhaps compromising the treatment of thousands of people. Green and his microphone have stirred up the population, feeling righteously over-taxed and under-served, with the idea that a bunch of quacks at city hall are running social experiments on their dime.
Yet not knowing the harm that will inevitably come from ending the harm reduction approach could cost us all a great deal more both in terms of costs to the health care system treating infected addicts and that unquantifiable human cost. All I can hope, for the sake of those I know and love, is that eyes are opened despite Green and his politics. But regardless, it’s a shame that someone like Green, with such a obviously humanitarian soul, can himself be doing his community and perhaps even himself such a disservice with his outspokenness on this issue. If only his eyes would open too.
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