Home Uncategorized Insite Onsite: Concordia Launches 16th Annual HIV/AIDS Lecture Series with harm reduction activist.

Insite Onsite: Concordia Launches 16th Annual HIV/AIDS Lecture Series with harm reduction activist.

by Archives October 7, 2008

Harm reduction activist Gillian Maxwell spoke at Concordia last Thursday. Maxwell, who works with several British Columbia lobby groups that have supported the Insite safe injection facility in it’s fight to stay open, spoke about community involvement with harm reduction programs as part of the 16 annual Concordia University HIV/AIDS Lecture Series.
Maxwell sat down with The Concordian to talk about her work.
“The world is totally in agreement about harm reduction because of the spread of HIV. The World Health Organization, the Red Cross, different parts of the United Nations, including the Secretary General are all on record saying harm reduction is essential in order to fight HIV/AIDS, particularly with injection drug users,” said Maxwell.
“Harm reduction and the goal of Insite is reducing the harm to people while they’re doing harmful things, rather than trying to get them to stop. On a practical level, you can’t make someone stop: the idea is to help them stop sharing needles and to stop them from overdosing and dying. The basic idea is to stop the spread of disease. Having people be responsible for taking care of themselves is a little step, but a big step to have somebody not injure themselves as much as they have been.”
“You can look at people’s addiction problems from many perspectives and many people look at it from a moral point of view and they think it’s bad and wrong and they want people to stop. The truth is people mostly do what they need to do for themselves and when they’re forced to do things sometimes it works, but there is a high failure rate of people going into addiction treatments. Drug Courts are a good example of that, people go to avoid jail, but the recidivism rate is very high.”
Maxwell defines Insite’s success by the numbers both in dollars saved to the health care system and in the declining spread of dissease. “It is a benefit to the individual from a community point of view and from an economic one. Insite was a trial for three years and a lot of research was conducted showing the decreased rates of HIV and Hepatitis-C. Over 25 peer reviewed papers were published in international medical journals . . . all were positive, that it works and it should continue.”
Despite these favourable findings, Insite has been met with opposition: “Insite had an exemption under the federal controlled Drugs and Substances Act. However, during the time Insight was in its three-year trial, the federal government changed and the Conservatives came in and they just don’t like it. They ignored the evidence and scientific results. It doesn’t fit in their world of how things would be, and they think people who use drugs are wrong and bad and should be punished. It is an old way of looking at things and we (as a nation have) progressed.”
Critics say that places like Insite are enabling drug use. “Not everyone agrees. There are a very small minority, whether extreme groups or mostly religious based groups, who say the only answer is abstinence. It just indicates a very limited way of thinking and that is not how life works. You have to engage these people: you have to include them, but you also have to be realistic that the majority of people will ‘thank you’ for the information.”
With the Federal election next week, Maxwell said she’d like to see positive action from Canada’s next government. “The Conservative government has taken us in a completely different direction. Canada used to be more of a leader in this field in North America with the first safe injection site and now we’re going back into the dark ages on an international scale and everybody has noticed, it’s an embarrassment.”
“I will like them to acknowledge all the research that says this is a health care facility. To also give supervised injections sites their blessing and open the doors for other part of the country. Not everybody needs them, but whatever jurisdiction need them to open them.” However, fundamentally, even to concede to Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms would be a satisfying start: “Underlying all of this are social justice and human rights issues. Ultimately, as long as we call them criminals because they decide they like cocaine or heroin or marijuana is totally unacceptable. I think Canada has to be engaged in a dialogue about our drug policies to explain why it doesn’t work and why drug use should be on a continuum of beneficial use to very harmful use. I feel very strongly that our drug policies are similar to slavery, women’s rights, gay rights – all those previous things in human rights history where there has been a target population where you say ‘those people are really bad.'”
“It doesn’t make sense to just let them get really sick because they become a big drain on the health care system: we have a duty to take care of them. I’ll never change Stephen Harper’s or Tony Clement’s mind, but maybe some of the people around them will say there is a point about what we’re doing.”

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