Want to help addicts? Don't give them pipes, needles, says a survivor.
Someone who used to live on the streets, work the streets, do crime on the streets and has now escaped the dead-end life of the streets has a little advice for Prince George residents: quit enabling drug addicts and organized crime.
If you offer hard-core addicts anything of value to their habit, either monetary or convenience, they will take it rather than work at treating their dependency disease, said this experiential woman we shall call Sophie.
She singled out the needle exchange, crack pipe giveaways and methodone program as prime examples of what not to do to fix downtown's social decay problem.
"It's not harm reduction, it is harm promotion," said Sophie. "Here is harm reduction in action: you can't get scabbies cream or treatment for lice, but you can get methodone at the drop of a hat through the government.
"And methodone program? There is no program. It is legalized drug dealing.
Methodone is supposed to get you off heroin eventually, right?, but it is a fix.
"Here's what you do: you go get 100 millilitres of methodone, which is watered down by half, you boil the juice out of it down to 50 millilitres, and then you've got yourself a pure fix.
"And it's actually easier to kick the heroin than it is the methodone."
She said the crack pipes and needles are usually taken by the most seasoned of addicts but they take them back to the crackshacks and pimp pads and they are passed around to others newer to the underworld. Many are actually sold.
"You'll get the drinkers going to get the needles and pipes to sell later to the drug users after hours.
It's a business," said Sophie.
"I've relicked old needles back into their packages and sold them as new.
You can get 100 needles for $10 in a drugstore, but after hours you can sell them for $5 each because the user is desperate and needs that needle. And the crack pipes are winding up in the hands of kids, people who have never done crack before."
Sophie put in time in some of the harshest slums Canada has ever known, and paid a brutal price for it. She said her traumas are so numerous and horrifying that 30 years of heavy drug use couldn't suppress it all. In fact, it contributed to it.
"My psychiatrist needed an hour with a psychologist after an hour listening to me," she said.
But it is working. Now clean and productive to society, she is gainfully employed and putting in hours of counselling and group support every week.
She said it takes the combined efforts of the Phoenix Transition House, Association Advocating for Women and Children, and all the Alcoholics Anonymous meetings she can find to keep her straight, because the urge is still there underneath all her recovery.
The idea of clean needles and crack pipes as a means to stop the spread of disease is comical to her.
She claimed not only do addicts not think of such things when they are screaming for a fix, they will lay little mine fields in public places in the process. Snapping the pointy end off needles is a highly common practise among intravenous drug users, she said.
They do it so they don't accidentally break an old one off in their veins because the javeline end will literally wander around in their bloodstream, sometimes poking holes in all kinds of under-the-skin places and sometimes lodging in there somewhere and never coming out. So users snap them off and discard them first -- into the sand of children's sandboxes, into the pea gravel of public playgrounds, into the dirt of municipal flower beds, and by the hundred into the carpets of crackshacks just waiting for the bare foot of a child when a family moves in months or years later to the house that used to deal drugs.
"We used to try, on purpose, to get HIV," she disclosed, because it meant more welfare money from the government. "I learned pretty much from childhood that the government will give you free food, clothing, cable, shelter and cash, so that looked pretty good."
There is an answer to the whole dilemma, she insisted fervantly. Instead of publicly unpopular harm reduction strategies, which she agreed was there to slow the spread of some dangerous diseases, she suggested more programs like Street Humanities at CNC, now cancelled; or better recovery facilities like the Nechako Treatment Centre, now closed.
These and the aforementioned crisis recovery associations were what hauled her out of her fatalistic life of heavy drug use and degrading survival sex work.
"Heaven forbid any of us should ever get well," she said. "People keep talking about the drugs, but it is not the drugs we are having to kick, that takes like days or weeks -- it is all the abuse we have to kick, and that takes years, if you ever shake it off. It is about the shame and guilt and trauma. You have to give someone [oral sex] for ten bucks so you can get a hit of whatever, and that is humiliating and makes you sick to your stomach and you feel terrible about it, it wrecks you inside, so you get high. You don't do drugs to feel weird and cool, you do drugs to close the doors on all that hardcore shame and humiliation and the violence you've seen and the terrible things you've done for this drug. But the doors keep opening. They always will, and believe me the dealers are getting better and better, which I guess really means worse and worse out there, so you're going to have more and more addicts and pushers and pimps and children working the street to deal with, and how's that working out for you so far?"
It is an expensive bill the taxpayer faces, she said, to fund the things people on the street really need to change their life, but the cost of not doing it is going to bring that dark, horrifying life home to more and more 'normal' Prince George families, homes and businesses, she said.
Author: Frank Peebles
Pubdate: Sun, 26 Oct 2008
Source: Prince George Citizen (CN BC)
Copyright: 2008 Prince George Citizen