[quote]This piece in rebuttal: RE: “Vancouver’s easy drug access may have helped kill Monteith,”
by Licia Corbella, Opinion, July 19.[/quote]
From the desk of Liz Evans: Founder and Executive Director of PHS Community Services Society
[dropcap]I[/dropcap] am the executive director of the PHS Community Services Society that runs (in partnership with the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority) Vancouver’s “Insite”, the supervised injection site mentioned in Licia Corbella’s piece last week.
It is heartbreakingly sad that someone as young as Cory Monteith should die from drug use. My heart goes out to the friends, family and parents who struggle with the unimaginable pain of seeing loved ones and children die prematurely. As a parent, I find it impossible to comprehend the depth of their sadness, and yet I have seen it far too many times in my work.
Trained as a nurse, when I started working in the Downtown Eastside, just like Corbella, I too had some extremely uninformed views — despite meaning well. I believed there were simple solutions for the obvious suffering.
In this community I found people struggling in their addiction and mental health issues, some dying from drug overdoses, and others with complex stories and lives where solutions were not obvious or simple. Once when checking on an elderly female resident, I found her in her room where she sat in a rocking chair with the needle still in her arm, dead.
The consequences of addiction in our modern “civilized” society should not be death. We need to get out from under the blaming and fear and start to care about people with some wisdom and clarity.
We need to stop thinking about the drug user as the “other”. People use drugs across every sector of society: in Calgary for certain, in Montreal, in Toronto, in private schools, in public schools, in hospitals, in jails, and, yes, in Vancouver. People all across society have managed to find and use illicit drugs for centuries.
Implicit in drug use is shame, isolation, stigma, the risk of disease, and death, regardless of the size of your paycheque. Canada can do better.
It is heartbreaking that a columnist would reinforce these well-meaning but misinformed views, feeding into a popular story responsible for so much suffering, disease and death across our country.
Insite was created for the specific purpose of preventing people from dying — and it does.
Insite does not provide drugs. It does provide clean needles that stop the spread of disease and a medically trained staff that can intervene in overdose.
To be very clear: had Cory Monteith chosen to inject at Insite on the day he died, he would not be dead. Over one million injections have taken place at Insite since it opened without a death.
When Corbella states that more examination of Insite is necessary, she misses some pretty gargantuan points. Firstly, the evaluation has been done.
According to research published in the British Medical Journal, Insite has not prompted adverse changes in community drug use patterns. According to research published by Health Canada, the neighbourhood residents and businesses view Insite as making a positive contribution and reduces public disorder. According to research published in the American Journal of Public Health, Insite does not promote drug use and the average Insite user has been injecting for 16 years.
The health benefits of Insite were a key issue fought and won during a Vancouver election and the subject of a Supreme Court of Canada case, where it received the unanimous support of nine Supreme Court justices. The actual science and facts are in fact easy to find, given that Insite is one of the most studied health care programs of it’s size, in Canada. The Harper government poured millions into researching Insite, looking for negative outcomes, without success. So rather than repeating a couple of anecdotes off the street, or eaves dropping from a conversation, perhaps reading these studies would shed some light in earnest.
In the last 22 years that I have been involved with our low-income community, our organization has worked with thousands and thousands of people offering detox, treatment, housing, supports and a safe place in which to inject. There has been a 35 per cent decrease in drug overdose deaths in the four blocks around Insite. Of the 13,000 individuals who have made use of Insite, thousands have connected to health care, detox, drug treatment, and housing.
When people coming to Insite are ready to try to get clean, they can go upstairs to “Onsite” where we have a detox and transitional recovery housing. The evaluation shows that people who use Insite are over 30 per cent more likely to access detox and treatment than those who do not.
All of this experience and research illustrates that addiction is complicated, with no “silver bullets”. Insite allows people the time to stay alive, with the possibility of improving their situation. If you are dead, you have no hope of recovery.
There are many complicated reasons people end up addicted and I, as much as anyone, wish I knew how to “save people” and end the tragic circumstances people who use drugs find themselves in.
Cory Monteith’s death shocked and saddened us because he seemed to have it all. I am not so naive to think there are not many, many people like him across our country who would benefit from a kinder, more thoughtful attitude toward addiction.
Restricting our analysis to a belief that drug use is limited to the social outcasts we love to blame for all manner of social ills damages us all. Vancouver has embraced an alternative view, one that says the drug users’ lives actually matter.
We need more policies to support an approach that wraps services around people, not beliefs.
While I understand Licia Corbella sincerely wants to help, perhaps her words would be more effectively directed toward the Harper government’s cuts to services that could help offer long-term treatment, and detox, rather than demonizing the minuscule amount of funding spent on reducing it’s harm.
This suffering has to end and it is up to all of us to get informed and make it happen.
Liz Evans is the Founder and Executive Director of PHS Community Services Society. For more information about Insite and to read the various evaluations, you can visit,