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Federal drug strategy flawed: study
 
Peter O'Neil
CanWest News Service; Vancouver Sun

OTTAWA -- A new study published today says roughly three-quarters of federal spending to fight illegal drugs is going towards unproven and possibly counterproductive enforcement measures while an insignificant amount is being spent on potentially more effective "harm-reduction" measures.

The study was produced by the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, an agency partly funded by the B.C. government, that is fighting a fierce battle with Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government over the future of Canada's only supervised injection site for addicts in downtown Vancouver.

"While the stated goal of Canada's drug strategy is to reduce harm, evidence obtained through this analysis indicates that the overwhelming emphasis continues to be on conventional enforcement-based approaches which are costly and often exacerbate, rather than reduce, harms," states the report in HIV/AIDS Policy and Law Review, a publication funded partly by the Public Health Agency of Canada and the American Bar Association.

Meanwhile, federal funding to deal with health issues such as rampant HIV infection rates among addicts is "insignificant," the study notes.

"This stands in stark contrast to recent comments made by various stakeholders suggesting that there has been an over-investment in harm-reduction programming."

The comment was in direct reference to a statement by the Canadian Police Association on the same day, Sept. 1, 2006, that federal Health Minister Tony Clement questioned preliminary research suggesting Vancouver's supervised injection site for drug addicts is effective.

Clement issued a news release raising doubts about Vancouver's supervised injection site, called Insite, while announcing that he would extend the facility's licence only until the end of 2007 pending further review. Health Canada bureaucrats had supported a 3 1/2-year extension.

The CPA, meeting the same day in Victoria, publicly condemned so-called harm reduction measures. The CPA, a national organization for rank-and-file Canadian police officers, has emerged as a strong supporter of the Harper government's tough approach to crime.

CPA vice-president Tom Stamatakis, who is also president of the Vancouver Police Union, told the media the federal government is focusing most of its effort and money on harm-reduction measures such as needle exchanges and the Vancouver injection facility.

"This harm-reduction focus has led to unprecedented levels of crime in our city," said Stamatakis, calling for a new national strategy that focuses on treatment, prevention and enforcement.

The B.C. Centre's new study, analysing publicly available documents, said 73 per cent, or $271 million, of the $368 million spent by Ottawa in 2004-05 went towards enforcement measures such as border control, RCMP investigations and federal prosecution expenses.

Of the remaining $97 million, $51 million went to treatment, $26 million was spent on "co-ordination and research," $10 million went to prevention programs, and $10 million was devoted to harm reduction.

The study says the proportion of federal spending on enforcement has dropped from 95 per cent in 2001 to the most recent figure, 73 per cent, after the former Liberal government responding to criticism from the federal auditor-general and other critics that Canada's drug strategy was unco-ordinated and ineffective began emphasizing alternative anti-drug strategies such as harm reduction.

The authors, who object to Ottawa's plans to develop a new national drug strategy with greater focus on enforcement, say Ottawa is putting extraordinary demands on Insite to prove its positive impact. This pressure continues even though preliminary research indicates the Vancouver facility results in more addicts seeking treatment and fewer sharing needles.

Meanwhile, numerous studies have already shown that get-tough enforcement measures, as well as police-run education programs, aren't effective despite generous federal funding, the authors argue.

For instance, more intense enforcement measures push drug users outside urban centres, where they have less access to needle exchanges and treatment, and cause more violence, property crime, and high-risk injecting behaviour, according to the study.

"The proposed Americanization of the drug strategy, towards entrenching a heavy-handed approach that relies on law enforcement, will be a disaster," says report co-author Dr. Thomas Kerr in a statement.

"It is as if the federal government is willing to ignore a mountain of science to pursue an ideological agenda."

Vancouver Sun

EDS:Today in copy is Monday

© CanWest News Service 2007




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