The Harm of Harm Reduction Philosophy
By Neil Dykstra, coordinator of Langley ARPA
“Therefore, do not let sin reign in your mortal body, so that you obey its evil desires.” (Rom 6:12)
Addictions are the closest thing in our day and age to slavery. Whether it involves drugs, sex, alcohol, gambling or other behaviors, addictions are a psychological and sometimes physical dependence on something. Without taking into account the morality of the subject of the addiction, scripture clearly portrays slavery to the mortal body as the antithesis of godly life. In Genesis 1:28, God’s first commands to man are to be His image-bearer in creation, subduing the earth and everything in it. How can we subdue the earth when we let it subdue us?
Substance abuse is a common source of these addictions. It can be with legal substances, such as alcohol, nicotine, certain prescription drugs, or even caffeine. Illicit substances such as crack cocaine, methamphetamines (crystal meth) and heroin quickly produce full-blown physical addiction. Others, such as marijuana, MDMA (ecstasy), and LSD (acid) produce psychological dependencies. All of these drugs, when used in a dependant manner, pose significant health problems and affect relationships with others.
A comprehensive report was produced in 2003 to investigate the costs of substance abuse.1 They found that the total costs for health care and lost productivity for alcohol and tobacco were around 27 billion, while the figure was about 6 billion for illicit substances (excluding cannabis). The problem with this reasoning is it does not take into account the effects of enforcement and prevention strategies, which drastically reduce the number of illicit drug users. A more accurate comparison is comparing the cost-per-user figures, which are more revealing. The yearly cost per alcohol user is about $700, and increases to $5000 for tobacco users. What about illicit drugs? The cost to society is about $32000 per user per year.
So what does “Harm Reduction” have to do with drug addictions?
The “Harm Reduction” philosophy attempts to mitigate the damage of dangerous lifestyles. Central to its philosophy is that people cannot and should not be prevented from engaging in risky and dangerous activities. Rather, resources should be used to reduce the harm of such activities. This philosophy has been used since the 1960’s to normalize casual sex, with alarming success. Condoms, birth control, abortions, and an erosion of parental rights have all been introduced under the guise of “safe sex”, a term so misleading that any reputable publication rewords it as “safer sex”. This strategy may reduce the occurrence of teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease, but at a severe cost, including the unseen damage to the institution of the family and the loss of millions of unborn lives.
Now, activists are turning their Harm Reduction approach on drug policy.
The definition of the buzzword “Harm Reduction” with respect to drugs has morphed over time. In the 1998 version of Canada’s Drug Policy, it defines it as “Reducing the harm associated with alcohol and other drugs to individuals, families, and communities.” The document proceeds to describe its vision of reducing that harm – by reducing demand and supply of drugs. There is no mention of the activities that are today associated with the term. Indeed, when the Conservatives reviewed the Drug Policy upon coming to power, they excluded the term. Their policy now states the policies of preventing illicit drug use, treatment of the addicted, and combating the production and distribution of drugs. This made it abundantly clear that “Harm Reduction”, as it is now known, is not part of Canadian drug policy.
Nevertheless, some municipalities and even some provincial governments have done what they can to introduce Harm Reduction programs. The city of Vancouver has been at the forefront. A taxpayer-funded needle exchange program has been in place since 1989. An exemption to Canada’s narcotics laws allowed the opening of Canada’s only Safe Injection Site, named Insite, in the Downtown Eastside neighborhood of Vancouver in 2003. The province of Quebec is currently in discussions with the federal government over similar exemptions to allow it to open several safe injection sites in the near future. Other “Harm Reduction” programs include methadone treatment of heroin addicts and ecstasy tablet testing in clubs.
The next logical step in the harm reduction philosophy is the legalization of all drugs. Advocates claim that legalization will eliminate organized crime, stop the funding of terrorists, save thousands of lives lost to overdoses, drastically reduce petty crime, and generate revenue for the government. They even go so far as to claim that drug use will decrease after legalization, explaining that the illegal nature of drugs is what makes them attractive. There are many flawed assumptions that legalization supporters use to justify their position. Central to them is the assertion that psychoactive drug use is a normal psychological urge, similar to the human desires for sex and food, and should not be constrained in any way.
European countries have experimented with both harm reduction programs and even legalization of certain drugs. Holland is often used as a symbol of the success of the harm reduction approach. What has Holland become after a liberalization of its drug policies? In an article entitled Holland’s Half-Baked Drug Experiment, Larry Collins provides an unflattering picture of what Holland has become2. “Holland is Europe’s drug supermarket,” a French narcotics officer states in the article. People from all over Europe are flocking to Holland in order to buy and consume narcotics. Usage of various types of drugs in both Holland and neighboring countries has skyrocketed.
A contrast to Holland can be found in Sweden. The official drug policy of the government is to work towards a drug-free society. A zero-tolerance policy for drugs and generous funding for treatment facilities has resulted in a very low incidence of drug abuse and the crime associated with it. A very effective sentencing scheme allows addicts convicted of any offence to opt for treatment rather than jail – and they are not released until they are cured from their addictions.3
What does this mean for us here in Canada? Harm reduction programs are going on around us and more are being planned. The “science” used to validate Insite’s effectiveness is biased and flawed4,5. Little evidence exists to qualify other harm reduction programs as successful. All of these harm reduction strategies facilitate harmful drug use. They promote to us, our friends, and our children the fallacy that drug use is acceptable and normal. As citizens, let us remind our politicians of the dangers of harm reduction philosophies, and work towards a drug policy that promotes a drug-free vision of Canada.
1) Rehm, J., et al, The Costs of Substance Abuse in Canada 2002, http://www.ccsa.ca/NR/rdonlyres/18F3415E-2CAC-4D21-86E2-CEE549EC47A9/0/ccsa0113322006.pdf
2) Collins, Larry, Holland’s Half-Baked Drug Experiment,
3) United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Sweden’s Successful Drug Policy: A Review of the Evidence, 2007, http://www.unodc.org/pdf/research/Swedish_drug_control.pdf
4) Davies, Garth, A Critical Evaluation of the Effects of Safe Injection Sites, Journal of Global Drug Policy and Practice, http://www.globaldrugpolicy.org/1/3/2.php
5) Mangham, Colin, A Critique of Canada’s INSITE Injection Site and its Parent Philosophy: Implications and Recommendations for Policy Planning, Journal of Global Drug Policy and Practice, http://www.globaldrugpolicy.org/1/2/2.php
I would also recommend a four-part opinion piece by Margaret Wente in the Globe and Mail, the first part titled “Sick of watching people die” http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20080711.wcowent12/BNStory/specialComment