Thursday, August 18, 2011

A loss of principles

I had a call yesterday from a reporter wanting to talk about 'the crack pipe issue'.

Since 2008, Safeworks, a harm reduction service of our health care system, has been distributing screens and mouth pieces along with new crack pipes to addicts. They have a mobile clinic from which they distribute the items, though they do hand out screens and push pins from their office in the shelter where I work.

It's wrong! decry citizens. It's enabling. It's illegal. I don't want my tax payer dollars to go to support drug addicts. It's about the principle. How can we support such illegal activity.

Yes, I replied when the reporter asked me for my thoughts. Crack is an illegal substance. Being an addict is not. Handing out pipes is enabling. It enables people to stay alive. To be safe. It prevents the spread of transmittable disease. And in the end, it saves tax dollars.

It is so easy to paint such an issue black and white. To brush it over with 'it's wrong' judgements as we push ourselves into a frenzy of puritanical righteousness about our political leaders incompetence in allowing such a transgression to transpire.

Doesn't change the fact, it saves lives.

I don't agree with crack usage. I don't agree with a lot of things our clients do -- just as I don't agree with murder and rape and war and all the things we, as human beings, do to harm ourselves and each other and our world.

It doesn't mean we don't have a responsibility to take care of those for whom life has lead them to a place where the only thing they believe is that they need their next fix to feel alive, to feel life, to feel human or part of the human race. Or, that the only way to stop the pain of living in this world is to numb themselves with the next fix, the next snort of some illegal, or legal, substance that will take away the reality of their lives -- where ever they live.

The 'crack pipe issue' has lead to the program workers being told to quit handing out crack pipes while a review of the process is undertaken.

Oh for leaders with courage!

These are our tax dollars at work. Our tax dollars are saving lives.

It's not about right or wrong. It's about keeping people engaged in admittedly high risk behaviours from dying. It's about giving these individuals a chance. Any chance to make a different choice, because in this program, the hand that reaches out to pass the pipe is a caring professional well-equipped to connect, to build a relationship that could, one day, lead to the one taking the proffered pipe making a different choice.

It's all about keeping the lines of communication open.

It's all about reducing the harm and building bridges.

It's about prevening death where possible.

But they choose to take crack. They should live with the consequences. Why should I have to pay?

People choose to smoke cigarettes. They do not choose cancer.

People choose to overeat. They do not choose heart disease or diabetes and while the correlation between their behaviour and the outcome can be made, it does not mean we do not offer treatment and support. We don't shut the door on a cancer patient because his/her cancer is 'self-inflicted'.

I have never met someone with cancer who insists they always intended to get it. I have yet to meet an addict who insists they always dreamt of being an addict.

Sure, our choices do lead us to paths we never imagined. and sometimes, those paths are places the rest of us in 'righteous society' abhor and shun.

I can't change the choices someone made to get to crack alley. I can affect how they're treated. I can ensure they do not fall further -- by opening my mind to the possibility that where ever they're at, they need help. And while the medicine may be hard to swallow, sometimes that help means all I can do is hold a space for them while they struggle through whatever turmoil they've encountered. If that turmoil includes an addiction to illegal substances, I can do whatever it takes to prevent that addiction from killing them.

It's like teaching safe sex and handing out condoms in schools, I told the reporter. Just because I might think it's 'wrong' for teens to have sex doesn't mean it makes it right to ignore that they are. Reality is, sexual activity is starting younger and younger. To pretend it isn't taking place is to leave our children at risk of communicable diseases, unplanned pregnancies and a host of life impacts for which we, as a society, will be responsible. And perhaps, in the conversation about sex, some will make different choices. If we don't have the conversation, the opportunity to learn and grow will never happen. And teens will engage in unsafe sexual practices.

These are the same tax dollars at work. The same harm reduction practices.

I can't stop an addict from using. I can make it possible for them to have the opportunity to be safe by doing the difficult things that reduce their risk to harm.

It's something we all can do, all must do.

I'd rather lose my principles than lose a life to drugs.


Maureen said...

Oh, this issue has been raised so many times in the D.C. area, and I want to scream every time I hear someone say "it's their choice". Just as I want to scream when I hear so-called presidential candidates say it's time to make government irrelevant. Great, I say; eat your uninspected meat, take your untested drugs, allow your children to be exposed to unregulated chemicals and go to schools where nobody cares whether or not they get an education. It's insane. Society bears the greater cost every time it turns its back on making the connection, opening the line of communication. And that cost is not just in dollars; it's about what it means to be human.

Do let us know what that reporter writes, and whether he gets it. . . right.

Anonymous said...


keeping people safe, often from themselves or from their own self-destructive behaviour, is the challenge

if your agency is in the business of keeping people safe, then do so

if your agency isn't in the business of keeping people safe - or at least trying to help in that cause, then one should question why it exists at all

the issue is one of public policy at high levels - often unwrittent policy - that permits, or stands in the way of, solutions

keep fighting the good fight


p.s. most reporters have few clues about reporting let alone the issues they report on; that's why the get it wrong so often. Politicians, too often, read the paper rather than learning the issues from people who know and understand them.

Claudia said...

i agree with you in all points you make. i also found it interesting that you're talking about the costs for tax payers. i recently heard that the big part of health insurance money is spent for dealing with civilization health problems, not sure how the english word exactly is for that - but these are health issues coming from eating too much and don't have enough exercise - so diabetes and all these kind of stuff. the part they spend for helping drug addicts is relatively small compared to this

Jennifer Richardson said...

well said, you.
it's so easy to black and white
it all from a disinfected distance.
compassion dares to draw near.

Anonymous said...

“Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this,


began to go away
one at a time,

the older ones first,

until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there.

from john 8

sometimes those who want to do right, forget that they are not without sin.

Fi said...

Eloquent,to the point and so very well said.

I love that everything you write makes so much sense.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Fi - I love the fact that you makes so much sense, and also that you can say it so well.......eloquently, to the point and so well said. This would be a great blog to send into the Herald's editorial page.

Louise Gallagher said...

Thanks everyone.

and anon -- great minds think alike :) it should be published this weekend in an edited version (op-eds are 850 wds)


Anne Lang Bundy said...

So many thoughts ...

WWJD? As nance marie rightly shows, Jesus didn't hinder the righteous from throwing stones with force, by with the power of convicting words. He also told the adulterous woman to sin no more, rather than giving her a condom and advising her to have safe sex until she could find a way out of sin.

I hear the love in the many words here, and it gives me pause to think carefully about why I don't agree with the conclusion, even if I adamantly agree with the heart.

There can be no life and safety where one turns to government rather than God, no matter the affliction.

Still thinking more thoughts ... with ever so much love in my heart

Karen Eck said...

I learned a new perspective from you just now. All I had ever heard is the rhetoric ... and it sounded bitter to me even as I wondered why the problem exists in the first place. Seeing it from the other side truly helps. I agree that the heart you put into this effort is the heart that ought to exist in such places and faced with the depth of sin-problems. I can see how this same program could be abused by those who are truly enabling others in their self-destruction, but one can always find someone who damages a good effort with wrong intentions and counsel. I'm so glad that there are some willing to use unconventional methods to help the broken discover their need to change and build the strength to choose another path. It looks just a little like a substitute dying in place of the true criminal ... hmm.


i totally agree with you. we have issues of our own here in Montreal... but no one to lead the charge to see it done. we're so polite here...

someone needs a kick in his political butt!!

i've worked at the E.R. before, and there was a policy to never hand out to junkies new needles. we are downtown where there's about 30 junkies for every square foot... every request i got from junkies were met, not with one serynge, but a ziplock bag full of them!! they will not shoot up only once, and they have shooting buddies as well. clean needles they can share, used ones, not!!
i can't understand the mentality to resist such measures, but one can only decides what he/she thinks is the right thing to do, no matter what others may think.

go girl, go!!