Canada Might Not Be Taking Addiction Seriously


Canada might need an intervention. It’s not so much their drug problem as they’re not treating their drug problem as a problem. Maybe they see it as more of a situation or puzzle or phase users will grow out of. Now, far be it for the United States to point fingers at improper handling of drug problems – the U.S. won the World Health Organization’s Highest Level of Illegal Drug Use Award* back in 2008 – but at least it doesn’t have any crack pipe vending machines. Those would be in Canada.

Downtown Eastside Vancouver, to be exact. The non-profit organization, Portland Hotel Society, installed and now maintain two machines that dispense Pyrex crack pipes for 25 cents. Machines are usually empty by the end of the week.

“The pipes on the streets can get very expensive, just because they’re kind of scarce,” Mariner Janes, the manager of the PHS’ mobile needle exchange told CTV Vancouver. “The people that are using the machine and need the pipes are kind of in dire need of the supplies, and really it’s a health care kind of item.”

Kailin See, director of the Drug Users Resource Center, said of the machines’ bright bubble-letters and polka dots, “It’s making this not look like a scary or stigmatized thing. This is a very important thing for the community and we thought we wanted to make it look really snazzy.”

To be clear, the PHS and the DURC do not support crack use. It just seems like they do. It’s all part of Harm Reduction, an initiative that Vancouver took on in 2003 to help reduce the spread of infection and improve public health and safety.

It’s a kind of “give the people what they want so the people don’t cause so much trouble” initiative that, according to the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, is working.

It’s working so well that the Portland Hotel Society has decided to expand their assistance to alcoholics. (With Canadians drinking 50% more than the global average, the country has plenty of alcoholics in need of help.) The U-Brew program, created by PHS’ Drinker’s Lounge, teaches alcoholics how to brew their own beer or wine. The goal is to keep users from getting drunk on non-ingestible alcohol-containing substances such as rubbing alcohol and hand sanitizer.

The program’s executive director, Mark Townsend, explained to The Vancouver Sun that members must attend weekly meetings and donate some of their brew to the Drinker’s Lounge alcohol exchange. The exchange allows members to trade in dangerous alcohol-containing substances for safer alcoholic drinks.

Townsend admitted, “Obviously, we’d rather they didn’t drink, but if they do, we’d rather they didn’t drink hand sanitizer.”

Inarguably, at least one positive effect of the program is the sense of pride members feel after making their own drinks. When a group of people whose all-consuming thoughts are on obtaining a substance – even through dangerous or illegal means – work together to create something with their own hands, it’s hard to deny them their feelings of pride.

Even so, there’s just something that makes these programs hard to get behind, something that makes their proclaimed success hard to believe. Maybe it’s because America’s most famous Canadian at the moment is Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. Maybe it’s because Canada’s B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS sounds like they’re working hard to perfect AIDS. Maybe it’s because these programs hardly mention the physical and psychological effects and treatments of addiction. Maybe it’s because selling pipes to crack addicts and teaching alcoholics to brew makes the air smells foul of advantage.

Or maybe it’s just the idea that recovery is so hopeless and out of reach that we set the bar for treatment so low, we trip over it.

*Not an actual award

Jordan Lints

Jordan Lints

Political and Cultural Contributor
Jordan Lints

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