The multi-agency effort to enhance and co-ordinate services for those suffering from severe addictions and mental-health problems in downtown Victoria is a positive step, but more steps are needed.
Local government, health providers, police and community agencies have been working together for the past year on a plan to better assist the “hard to reach” population of about 100 people in the downtown area. The new service will make use of existing resources and programs, as well as about $500,000 in additional funding from the Vancouver Island Health Authority.
When clients come into one of the two downtown hubs for supplies such as bandages or clean needles, the aim is to connect them with other services. Case managers will keep track of clients, which should help ensure that efforts are not being duplicated, and that people in need get the opportunity to use a full array of services.
The initial focus is on harm-reduction — clean needles and other supplies will help reduce the spread of disease and maintain or improve the health of those involved — but it also provides an entry point on the path toward treatment and recovery.
It seems a lot of effort for a small group of people, but as Victoria Coun. Marianne Alto points out, it’s a group that causes a disproportionate amount of disruption for the community, so reducing the problems of this small group can pay dividends for everyone.
And they are people, not human flotsam to be cast aside and forgotten. Ignoring them will not make the problem go away — it will continue to grow. From either a compassionate or pragmatic point of view, it makes sense to help them.
But harm-reduction is only one of the four pillars of a drug strategy. The other three are enforcement, treatment and prevention. Police support of the new service does not come at the expense of enforcement — that will continue, we are assured.
Prevention often gets short shrift when it comes to funding — how do you measure something that hasn’t happened? — and treatment is expensive, but without these two pillars, the structure is not complete.
In an ideal world, people in need would receive the front-line help, then be directed onto a course of treatment and recovery. In reality, treatment is all but impossible until a person in need recognizes that he or she has a problem and needs help.
In an ideal world, we would catch them when they are ready, when they have admitted there’s a problem and asked for help. A few days, sometimes even a few hours, is enough time for a person to change his or her mind, and the opportunity is lost.
Government-subsidized residential treatment beds are needed, and Vancouver Island has no such beds. Treatment in a private residential facility costs $20,000 to $40,000, beyond the reach of most who need the treatment.
While much crime is associated with the illicit use of drugs, simply treating drug addiction as a crime won’t move us forward. Prisons are not places of treatment or prevention; addictions and needle-borne disease flourish within their walls.
And yet the federal government spends huge amounts of money on prisons, when some of that money would be better invested in treatment facilities.
All the good intentions in the world won’t help people who don’t want to be helped, but if they make that decision to embark upon the path of healing, we should endeavour to offer them more than a Band-Aid.
© Copyright 2013