June 21st, 2018

Tackling the addictions crisis

By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on February 21, 2018.

Al Barnhill

Decades ago, while an undergraduate student, I did a term paper on drug addiction. What I observed one day at a sanatorium has remained vividly in my memory.

Four men in a locked room with padded walls were yelling and screaming, pounding the walls with their heads and hands. Two of them had urinated in their pants. They were drug addicts … a rarity in the 1950s.

Today, societies around the world are burdened with addictions and their huge socio-economic costs. “Worldwide, there is a rising trend in the number of people who resort to substance abuse at an early age,” the World Health Organization reported in 2014.

In one study, “most of the substance abusers had started taking drugs between the ages of 11 and 20 years.” Concerns about substance abusers increase when you read that their education is high school or less (78.8 per cent), they are unemployed or semi-skilled (68.7 per cent), never married (70.7 per cent) and living in urban locations (72.7 per cent).

Tobacco and alcohol are the most common initiating drugs of abuse. One study found that “… medicinal opioids and cannabis were the most common substances abused.” Yet, the current Trudeau government has legalized the use of recreational cannabis. Ironically, in 1963, the Liberal government started a cultural and health revolution with its anti-smoking legislation. During that time, cancers, heart, lung and other smoking-related diseases declined. Welcome to your future, Justin!

Provincial and municipal governments allow an ever-increasing number of alcohol-related businesses, notably along highways and high traffic city streets. Do those governments “of the people” realize that the costs of medical services, policing and lost productivity exceed the revenues received from booze licences, fees and taxes? Do they consider the injuries, deaths and terrible human costs to families, friends and our society?

One highly qualified, multi-disciplinary team of researchers has stated that “The menace of substance abuse is not only a socially unacceptable reality, but in its entirety is a disease and emerging as a public health challenge” … maybe a crisis. During 2017, the province of British Columbia had a record number of deaths – 1,422 – from opioid overdoses. That’s 43 per cent more than the previous year. And the trend is growing across Canada.

Further evidence of drug abuse is reported south of the 49th parallel. In 2015, a Los Angeles physician was the first doctor in the U.S. to be convicted of murder for recklessly over-prescribing drugs. Her clinic issued 27,000 prescriptions in three years. A medical report indicated that one in four antibiotic prescriptions “are likely to do no good” for the patients, especially for seniors.

Foolishly, a Washington State law was changed to state “No disciplinary action will be taken against a practitioner (physician) based solely on the quantity and/or frequency of opioids prescribed.” In the U.S., “… opioid overdose deaths are now the leading cause of accidental deaths … surpassing the number of deaths from motor vehicle accidents and firearms.”

This article merely scratches the surface of the problems. What is critically needed is a community-based strategy intended to prevent and remedy addictions. But that won’t be an easy course of action. Saving lives never is.

Al Barnhill is a Lethbridge-based author and columnist.

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6 Responses to “Tackling the addictions crisis”

  1. already extinct says:

    Yes Al your short documentary does only “scratch the surface” highlighting harm & problems drugs bring to people. No point trying to improve on what you said – it’s perfect, and unfortunately also perfectly clear of the heads out there who currently found time 98 times (at time of this writing) to comment on “fake news” and “countering spin” regarding Castle Parks but not one responding to what you so well state concerning arguably the largest social problem facing “personkinds” (lol) today.

    Thank you sir for a fine editorial, and thank you Lethbridge Herald for providing the space.

  2. Montreal13 says:

    Interesting stenography ,for the most part. Thanks for compiling good info. Your one short piece of journalism, in the last paragraph is vague and fluffy. If you were a prof at the university ,in this field or related for many years, perhaps tenured, and now with a considerable pension – I would expect alot more depth to the journalism. I’m just tired of Sukuzism. Anyone can repeat statistics, do dictation and point out what the problems are. Journalist interpretation and insight into more specific solutions for an issue is what I seek. Most people are beyond the dictation material and are looking for on the ground feedback from people in places like Vancouver. It seems to me that Lethbridge is doing what has already been done in numerous other places. Ok,but where is the yard stick as to measurable results. Who controls the yard stick to this data and how transparent is it?

  3. biff says:

    the same dumbass propaganda borne about 80 years ago spewing forth over and over again. every so called drug is derived from either a unique plant, is a refined product, or a concocted chemical chain. each has a different effect, and offers different purposes for use. some prove more addictive, more toxic – others present very low rates of addiction or toxicity. typically, the more synthetic and refined the product, the more issues it carries for the user, because our bodies do not interact very well with that which is synthetic and refined. refined and synthetic sugars are useful examples. they are more problematic than sugars ingested from whole foods.
    there is no gateway drug. the great majority of pot users do not become heroin (refined opium) or cocaine (refined coca) addicts – ever. given all the pot users, or people that have tried it, we would have about 20-30% of our population addicted to heroin or cocaine were that true.
    the biggest issue we have outside of alcoholism in matters of stimulant addiction is that of the synthetic line of drugs conveniently referred to as opioids by big pharm. they are artificial creations of chemical chains that are difficult for our bodies to interact with. as we can see, they are far more highly addictive than most substances, though perhaps not quite on the same scale as doctored tobacco (where company additives were able to increase the rate of nicotine addiction). the point in all of this is that the fake opium causing so many issues is made and sold by pushers made legal by our gov’ts, and underwritten by doctor prescriptions. real opium never caused near the degree of issues as has big pharm’s poison pills. delude yourselves all you wish as to how bad are “drugs.” however, it would be helpful if one were educated enough to understand that each drug is as much different as is each “food”. a bowl of captain crunch differs from a bowl of blueberries.
    where i take issue is that a third party feels it has the right: to present lies as truth; to tell another what they can and cannot do with their body, and all the more vexing such that one is made a criminal as this right to one’s full ownership over their body is taken away; that one cannot access medication without third party validation.
    as for safe sites, they should include the assurance of safe/real substances at the really inexpensive cost they are before the massive mark up created by our poor drug laws. they should include counseling. they should not be retarded by controlling folk with simple minds stuck on lies and their prejudices.

  4. already extinct says:

    Biif I think most people couldn’t give a rats a.. what you or anyone else does with your body as long as YOU are prepared to pay to fix it on your nickel when it breaks down due to choices you make that cause it to fail – fair enough?

    • biff says:

      we are close to agreement, although a little more complicated than what you propose. perhaps we can look at it this way: the cost to the public purse to try and control adult human behaviour with policing, judiciary and “corrections” – with laws that amount to an illegal breach of the right to personhood – are far, far more massive than whatever the expenses related to compassionate treatment of the very small minority in need. moreover, do we not mutually support one another when health issues result to all other manner of human endeavours of choice, and otherwise? ski accidents, water related, climbing, building, driving, walking, motorcyles, genetics…. the slippery slope of ever more control over adult affairs would begin by shutting out some issues from the supportive umbrella of the greater good.
      perhaps we could consider rolling some of the huge savings from not policing personal adult choices into support for those that prove weak to their choice? perhaps we could add a tax to prices of drugs dispensed under gov’t control (as we control liquor) to offset supportive practices? please understand that drug prices are so stupidly expensive because of the black market/criminal risk involved; they are otherwise very cheap to produce per dose – somewhere near or between pre-taxed tobacco and alcohol. natural – non-synthetic – drugs at their realistic cheap prices, is what i am favouring. we cut the trunks off ofcriminal gangs reaping massive bucks at the expense of the public; we get sleazy big pharm out of the picture (they are responsible for the deaths and social/economic costs related to their fake opioids; tax payers save huge without policing/judiciary/incarceration costs related to drug use choice; the public benefits because drugs will be well affordable meaning far less crime, if any, related to one’s right to choose to use. the only losers will remain the small percent of users that are weak – but many of those will gain their strength with quality supports in place.
      is this not a better scenario than what we have at present; do not people find and choose their addictive demons anyway, even despite laws that order them to do otherwise? surely, we have learned that compassion is far healthier to a society than heavy handedness? for those that are strictly dollars and cents, legal drugs is the less expensive approach.

  5. Resolute says:

    Marijuana smoking introduces the user to the world of recreational drugs. So a gateway or doorway or opening act drug for most. A relatively small number are introduced to the world of drugs as a result of medical illness. Only a small portion of those introduced to drugs in either way become longterm users, addicts or escalate the potency of their drug of choice more than a level or two before the fear of loss of control that comes with their use is decided to prohibit further use or experimentation. It is the person involved that must decide, as in your typical addict. Outside forces cannot make this happen.
    As to the supervised consumption sites, the user supplies the drug. There is no opportunity for site staff to regulate users’ safety other than in a reactive mode to observe and respond. One staff member was planned to watch all users and this includes smokers in separate enclosed rooms. A several minute air evacuation of the consumption area is necessay for observor entry. Safe? Nope. Misguided and ignorant.

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