Drug crisis: The need for a safety net


Sir: The readers of The Chatham Voice commented on my earlier letter, “Opioid Crisis – a personal story” (The Voice, Sept, 20). A disclosure of my vulnerability in public/media brought a sense of hope to many.

If I as a professional in the field could fall victim to the medical use of opioids, then almost anybody can become a victim of opioids. And if I could bounce back from my dependency on opioids, then anybody else can also bounce back.

Some questions remain in my mind. What if I was addicted to the street-quality opioids? What would have been my options? How would I/my family ensure my life doesn’t end up in a gutter or a body bag?

If I were consuming highly potent often-adulterated street opioids, having no supervision from my health-care professionals, I would have lost my job, schooling, my family, home, finances, maybe I would have ended up in some dark alley, consuming more gutter-quality opioids and may be even prostituting to survive.

As an addict, I would have gone through an extreme level of physical and mental suffering, eventually to die prematurely, leaving my loved ones with the feelings of grief, shame and guilt over my life and death. Such is the fate of an opioid addict who goes undetected, unengaged with the health & social services.

A healthy alternative to dying prematurely with extreme level of sufferings is harm reduction. Harm reduction refers to individualized supports by a multidisciplinary team, to people with addictions, in a safe, secure, non-judgmental and confidential environment.

At these sites people with addictions are treated and valued as human beings. Education and supports are also provided to the family/friends.

Harm reduction has strong features of social supports and assertive outreach to the people who are not connected with the health and social services systems. Harm reduction as an option, is evidence based and far more cost effective than the traditional approaches of hospitalization and/or incarceration.

A person entangled with drug addiction is likely to have a multiple complex set of physical, social, emotional, spiritual and medical needs, in addition to not being connected with the health and social services systems.

Today’s youth are confronted with peer pressures; drugs are being pushed as a source of recreation, self-medication or as a way to deal with the life’s stresses. Management of physical pain remains another strong pressure to use/misuse drugs and alcohol. Therefore, if any intervention were to be taken, it must address the total needs of the persons struggling with any form of addiction.

The needs of people with mental illness and addictions in Ontario remain underserved for more than half a century, because, first of all, we don’t want to talk about it.

Secondly, dealing with mental health and addictions continue to remain a confusing maze of services.

Third, there is insufficient political will to support this sickness.

Finally, whatever services are available are all in short-supply. These together make it more challenging for the people in trouble and their families/friends to seek out professional help.

But what if the very evidence-based program which is cost effective, has been shown to work and is considered to be a part of best practices becomes a pawn in the hands of the provincial government in their zeal for cost cutting?

By today’s stat, almost three people die every day in Ontario as a result of the opioid addiction. Take away the harm reduction programs under the guise of cost savings and I predict the cost of hospital emergencies, emergency response, law enforcement, justice services, corrections, etc. will escalate, many fold.

Furthermore, take away the harm reduction programs and there will be an increase in the suffering of the marginalized individuals and their family/friends.

Frankly, there are no simple answers to the issue of cost savings, but programs which result into cost savings must be protected from the cost-cutting measures.

Cost-cutting measures by the provincial government are great, but eliminating/ downsizing harm reduction programs to save is an illusion and merely reshuffling of costs.

In concert with my fellow professionals, I urge the provincial government to reconsider research reports, before eliminating/downsizing the harm reduction programs.

Naresh James



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