Inner City Diary
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Challenging harm reduction and the lack of care
September 12, 2004
Last week I critiqued the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority's introduction of "crack kits" as a smokescreen which diverted attention from government's reduction of treatment for addicts.

It's sad when harm reduction takes precedence over harm elimination through treatment. It's a shame when "harm reduction" becomes a cliche to conceal the devolution of treatment.

It's offensive to inform addicts wanting help that they'll have to wait several weeks for treatment, but can immediately access free government crack pipes and lip balm.  

Most readers understood my rant against bureaucratic hypocrisy. But a few insinuated that the only reason I could question effectiveness of WRHA drug paraphernalia is because I didn't really care for addicts.

That ticked me off!

I know I care about and for addicts. I advocate for treatment. I encourage people to seek help. We work to bust dealers. We help some recovering addicts with transitional housing. I share a concern for harm reduction -- for the addict, their family, and the community at large.

I support others who reduce harm within a context of treatment. But I don't believe all harm reduction strategies are equally valid -- in conception or implementation.

I have a right to question the efficacy of a specific publicly funded harm reduction strategy -- even if I don't have a right to expect an answer.

If questioning any "harm reduction" technique automatically implies a lack of care, I am confused about the apparent lack of care for others.

Surely government can design a better sniff rag. I've seen filthy rags in huffer's mouths and covering their faces. Surely there could be a kit with a clean rag for people not yet motivated to seek treatment.

Surely there could be a brochure indicating which solvents are less harmful than others. The WRHA could even illustrate the sniffing techniques which fry the least amount of brain cells.

Surely government can design a better filter for cigarettes and distribute them freely to reduce harm to addicted puffers. After all, there are more people dying every year from cancer than HIV and hep C combined. And we're not even talking about second-hand smoke.

Perhaps the WRHA can provide sterilized shanks, bandages and condoms to cons for the next inevitable prison brawl or rape. Clearly we should derive some comfort from the fact that there will be less infection and death if inmates are provided with clean, professionally manufactured knives, sterilized bandages and institutional condoms.

Maybe the WRHA can provide condoms to pedophiles in the hope that they will don them prior to raping their next child. They know some unrepentant predators are being released from prison. They are so certain that the person will re-offend that they issue public notifications with a picture of the person in the community.

But if government already believes they are likely to re-offend, why don't they provide the departing diddlers several boxes of condoms and a brochure on how to lessen the harm of their next sexual assault? Wouldn't that pass the test of a potential harm reduction technique?

If the litmus test of "harm reduction" is any potential reduction of harm, infection or transmission of disease, why don't harm reduction activists advocate reduction of harm with these groups?

They would probably be reducing harm to someone somewhere.

I'm sure if they provided enough money for research, they could even find an example or structure an argument to bolster the claims of harm reduction.

But I doubt that will ever happen. So I think I have some valid question for the WRHA and the "harm reduction" advocates which attacked me for my lack of compassion.

Do you care less about the death and suffering of inmates in prison than that of addicts on the street?

Do you care more for drug addicts than for innocent children who may contract any number of diseases or injuries from the perverted pigs who rape them?

Do you care more for drug addicts than for nicotine addicts who somehow miss the point of the ugly pictures on the sides of cigarette packages?

Do you care less for sniffers than for drug addicts?

Or is it because not all "harm reduction" scenarios are equally acceptable? How do you decide whose harm to reduce?

Some would suggest that my scenarios are ludicrous and totally facetious. I admit they're probably a bit extreme.

But I hope someone explains to me why -- utilizing "harm reduction" logic -- these people wouldn't also be considered as targets of a harm reduction strategy.

While I await an explanation, I am certain of one thing regarding the outreach workers, bureaucrats and government folks with whom I differ on certain harm reduction techniques.

I know they care for the people harmed by all the above ills and crimes.

I'm sure the reason they're not reducing all these other harms is not because they don't care.

So I won't accuse them of not caring -- even if we disagree on a specific method of harm reduction.

I just wish they'd stop accusing me of the same -- especially when they know it's not true!

It's time for a more rational discussion of harm reduction.
Copyright 2004
Rev. Harry Lehotsky
Rev. Harry Lehotsky is Director of New Life Ministries, a community ministry in the inner-city of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
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