I have been in the field of substance abuse, helping others since 1998. Having struggled with my addiction to illicit drugs, including hallucinogens, I have been drug and alcohol-free for over 20 years. Throughout my career, I have seen almost every type of substance abuse in our current society. From cough syrup abuse, animal tranquillizers to huffing propane and any other poison. Having worked in a successful private drug rehab in Canada as its case manager for close to 12 years gave me a unique platform to observe the addiction issue up close.
This text is not about the addict and their condition. It is about the social-economical-political problems surrounding the issue. In line with the report of September 11, 2016, written by Yvette Brend & Manjula Dufresne – CBC News* BC, on the existing problem families face when seeking help. I quote: “Wait times can be as long as six months for the places in high demand, but many rehabs won’t tell you that. They just say a bed is just coming up. The addict must call in every day and try to snag it. Mothers say that can translate into weeks, even months. A call and a failure every day.”
One can ask themselves, “why is it this way?” There is no simple, reasonable response. The problem is not just in BC; you can see this across the country. As a counsellor of a referral & consultations service, we hear this daily. After a while, one begins to question what is wrong with the system. I decided to investigate by contacting various doctors, physicians, social workers, including public addiction counsellors. I intended to come up with a common denominator to the issue of community addiction treatment bottlenecks. There is a need in society for fast, effective, and professional help with substance abuse. Although I wasn’t posing as a parent, my questions were similar to what the CBC reporters asked. The responses I got were identical.
I was able to conclude some interesting facts. One of which is on a political/financial level. It was explained to me that each year there is a national budget. So much for education, so much for defence, so much for healthcare, etc. Okay, let’s look at the healthcare budget. The federal government takes the billions issued for healthcare and distributes it to the provinces. Some of the funds are available for new hospitals, medical machinery, etc. Most of which are expected to have a return. They are assets. Treatment of addiction is seen as an expenditure, not an investment. So, the lowest funds are distributed to these. The same goes with the legal system, meaning incarceration, arrest, legal aid, etc. No return, only expenditure.
One can see that with fewer funds, you get fewer services. Our leaders do not realize that creating good affordable detox and rehab with easy access is worthwhile. They do not see that achieving results with addiction for the less fortunate might just be an investment. A recovered drug or alcohol abuser now becomes a productive member of society. Becomes a “taxpayer,” lowers crime, puts less stress on the legal system, fewer broken homes, etc. That is the budget and economics viewpoint. There is another side, a bit more sinister, though.
Social aspects include the introduction of Harm Reduction in the early 1980s. Though this approach has good elements, the other side has taken us by storm. Consider the pharmaceutical drugs that are being prescribed to treat addiction. Halting the increase of beds and qualified staff per province leaves many in need waiting at the doorsteps for help.
It’s not long before a struggling addict begins to crave and enters the stage of withdrawal while waiting. Harm reduction opens the door to solutions to curb the symptoms and allow them to stay strong enough until a bed becomes available. Yet harm reduction saves lives. And many can attest to the benefits in the stride society has made since its inception.
But the fact remains that the problem still exists where people cannot enter a low-cost, efficient, high-care detox and rehab. So, I ask, do we have a reduction of harm? Or is it just a billion-dollar revenue product for the pharmaceutical companies?