Traditional understandings of drug use and prevention have centered around discouraging use by punishing drug users, and educating people in ways that stigmatize users so experimentation would be discouraged. However, many of these efforts have been ineffective levels of drug use down.
Sometimes, these punitive methods may even end up being harmful by forcing drug users to hide their addictions, rather then seek out help. The country of Canada is one of many places on earth facing crises of drug use. In a country with a population of about 35.16 million people, 47,000 Canadians die of issues related to substance abuse every year, according to the British Columbia Health Officer's Council.
The 2012 Canadian Alcohol and Drug Use Monitoring Survey found that 16.6 % of all drug users reported serious drug-related harms in physical, social, financial, or mental health. In an effort to combat this, the Canadian government is trying to take a unique approach to control and eliminate the social threat of substance abuse.
This innovative, multifaceted and compassionate approach is rooted in the idea of harm reduction.
A focus on harm reduction
Harm reduction starts with a realistic acknowledgement that drug use is not going to be complete eliminated, especially not by purely punitive measures. Recognizing this, harm reduction is a strategy that seeks to nonjudgmentally meet drug users where they are.
While ultimately hoping that people will stop using completely, community-based strategies of harm reduction seek to decrease the immediate negative consequences of drug use on the user. Programs like methadone maintenance, needle exchange programs, and outreach that encourages people to practice safe sex and reduce the amount of drugs consumed improve health, social, and economic outcomes of individuals.
By addressing the most urgent needs of addicted people, we can prevent deaths due to HIV, hepatitis, and overdosing. True harm reduction is not enabling an addiction to continue, but it does encourage responsible behavior and establish contacts with addicts in such a way that enables them to pursue sobriety in the long run.
While harm reduction affects the treatment of current drug users, the government's prevention action plan is addressed to society as a whole. The Canadian government is seeking to fund tested community-based programs for intervention to prevent drug use, particularly among teenagers.
While teenagers are naturally curious and may be drawn to the supposed glamor of drug use, these community approaches help people know the truth and the risks of substance abuse, communicating with each other to avoid getting started with the dangers of substance abuse. The government also supplies information about illicit and prescription drug abuse on the Internet and to health centers, helping people become more aware of the risks involved.
Simply locking people up in jail for drug crimes does little to help people pursue recovery. Often people leave jail, where they encounter other addicts, having learned little more then how to better hide and intensify their drug dependencies.
Thus, the government is taking very seriously the call to make resources for treatment more available. People involved in non-violent drug offenses often benefit from drug treatment courts, which offer support for recovery as an alternative to jail time.
The emphasis on the other models does not indicate a lack of attention being paid to undercutting the role of organized crime in creating and selling drugs. Increased funding to law enforcement, more monitoring of the Canadian border, and severe penalties for serious drug crimes suppress the production and distribution centers of drugs, making illicit substances less available and discouraging people from selling drugs.
Working in harmony with the other facets, Canada's drug policy can help to be an innovative model for the rest of the world seeking to stop this crisis on our globe's communities and health.