Overdose editorial off-base

Neil Godbout’s article Overdoses A Public Health Crisis in your March 11, 2021, reads, at first, like a real call for changing the way we look at addiction, but alas, it rings hollowly inside two brackets near the end of the article: (except for trafficking, of course).

The brackets appear within a passage where Godbout says Dr. Bonnie Henry (of COVID-19 media fame) has called for the “decriminalization of illicit narcotics to take away the law enforcement component (except for trafficking of course) and focus on individual sufferers from a health-care perspective.”

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Put in other words, Godbout says we should treat an individual’s addiction to illicit narcotics as a health issue but make supplying them the addictive material they desperately want a criminal offence. Now we know who to blame. The problem isn’t those poor addicts but those nasty, evil drug dealers. Yes, let’s blame them instead of government policies that restrict an individual’s access to drugs.

Earlier, Godbout states, “Overdose deaths are as traumatic for family, friends and health care professionals as COVID-19 deaths.”

Really? I don’t think so and Godbout reveals he doesn’t think so either, by pointing out we should remember that some overdoses are real people, like former Spruce Kings captain Chad Staley, and not “junkies who deserve most or all of the blame for their own personal demise.” I note, from an article on the next page in the paper, that a new arena in the city has been named the Chad Staley Memorial Arena in Staley’s honor.

Godbout’s attempt to “humanize” drug addiction is laughably like the B.C. government’s media campaign, StopOverdoseBC.ca, which cleverly tries to shift responsibility for formulating drug policy from the government, where it belongs, to the public with its calls to action: People who use drugs are real people. Get involved. Get informed. Get help. Backing this call up is a series of posters featuring immaculately coifed “white” people, a woman, for example, labelled as “Sister, Daughter, Drug User, Friend.” Can you imagine the uproar if, instead, they pictured some beat up, toothless, homeless indigenous woman? Yet, the truth is, drug addiction affects a far greater proportion of the First Nations community than it does the Caucasian. Many addicts don’t look like a poster child, since they have to spend every cent they can raise and steal to support their habit. 

Godbout further attempts to humanize addiction by suggesting we are all nearer the “guilty pleasure” that can become a “life-altering obsession” than we’d like to admit by asking if we could give up social media, cell phones (a bit too extreme), alcohol, coffee, sweets and pornography. 

I’m sure his omission of tobacco was a simple oversight but keep in mind government supplied cigarettes kill an estimated 6,000 British Columbians annually, while COVID-19 (according to figures supplied by Godbout) has killed 1,376 and drug overdoses 1,726 in roughly the same time frame. I don’t smoke but among the items Godbout lists, I must admit I have a sweet tooth. And, while many are decrying the dangers of sugar, I don’t think anyone is seriously recommending we ban the stuff.

I may not be addicted to something but government policy on drug access is still affecting me. The day this article appeared; I was at Central Interior Native Health with a good friend dealing with a crystal meth (side) problem. My friend got herself into a heroin/side habit after her doctor simply cut her off from the OxyContin she had been prescribed for chronic pain. Yes, the medical system creates opioid addicts and then simply cuts them off. Now that a program to make heroin available is underway in Prince George, I asked if the legalization of crystal meth was not far behind. That’s not likely, the doctor said, because crystal meth is a poison. Say, what, says I? Tobacco and alcohol are poisons, aren’t they? Yes, she replied, in a way, but crystal meth causes serious damage.

And thus, we get to the irrational approach to drug use and drug availability in our society. We reserve the right to limit access to others a substance we deem harmful to them. And this is what we need to change if we want to stem the tide of overdose deaths and create a truly free society. After decades of being illegal, marijuana is available to Canadians and the many positive benefits of the chemical compounds found in pot are still being explored. LSD, dumped in the “sin bin” without any research to justify it, is making a comeback in mental health treatment. Crystal meth may not prove to be that helpful but I suspect there are far more people relying on it to give them the energy boost to get them through their workday than we realize.

Imagine a Canada where all drugs were legal and where big pharma and smaller companies were allowed to develop drugs for all purposes from recreational to medicinal and in between. In a way, that’s hard for me because I can’t help look at the huge number of people puffing away on cigarettes (and now vapes) in Prince George and wishing it weren’t so, but I look to my belief in personal freedom to allow others to live and die as they choose.

And, there’d be one other substantial benefit of such a society - the need to name arenas for drug overdose victims would be substantially reduced.

James Miller

Prince George

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