Apr
23

Second reading of Bill C-2, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act

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Honourable senators, I would like to speak today about Bill C-2, the so-called respect for communities act. I do not think I need to repeat the details of this legislation. Our colleagues Senators Dagenais, Campbell and Day have already done so.

But because I think it is very important, I would like to reiterate the value of safe and medically responsible care for those who suffer from serious drug addiction.

Study after study has proven that supervised consumption services make a positive impact, not just for those who use the drugs but also for the community as a whole. These sites can be found around the world. There are more than 90 of them in Canada, Australia and Western Europe.

Senator Campbell has already spoken most passionately about the benefits of supervised consumption services as part of the continuum of care for drug users. We all know about Insite in Vancouver. It is a highly successful facility. It prevents death and disease, and it helps move drug users into treatment. It does not encourage drug use, nor has there been any increase in drug-related crimes. It saves lives, and it saves money.

For example, if Insite did not exist, the annual number of new HIV infections among Vancouver intravenous drug users would increase by more than 50 per cent. As Senator Campbell noted already, these new cases would cost more than $17 million in lifetime HIV-related medical care.

The Supreme Court was very clear about the value of Insite in 2011. In small part, the court’s ruling stated:

. . . during its eight years of operation, Insite has been proven to save lives with no discernable negative impact on the public safety and health objectives of Canada. The effect of denying the services of Insite to the population it serves and the correlative increase in the risk of death and disease to injection drug users is grossly disproportionate to any benefit that Canada might derive from presenting a uniform stance on the possession of narcotics.

But with this legislation it will be virtually impossible for any supervised consumption site to be opened. The burden for those looking to set up a site will become so onerous that it will never happen. Most importantly, it violates the spirit of the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Whether we like it or not, some individuals will find themselves addicted to drugs. As Senator Campbell said Tuesday, if “just say no” was the answer, we wouldn’t be having this debate. Drugs can be found anywhere.

In my own home province, Prince Edward Island’s 2013 Student Drug Use Report found that 2.4 per cent of students from Grade 7 to Grade 12 have tried heroin. The average age for the first try is 13.6 years old.

But harm reduction works. We may be surprised to hear this, but P.E.I. has an active needle exchange program, with seven locations throughout the province. The use of this program has increased dramatically in recent years, from 34,000 needles distributed and returned in 2010 to 153,000 in 2013, saving the province significant sums in health care costs and preventing debilitating illnesses for some of the province’s most vulnerable residents.

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We also have three methadone clinics — in Summerside, in Charlottetown and at the Provincial Addictions Treatment Facility in Mount Herbert. In January of this year, more than 530 Islanders were receiving methadone.

Dr. Peter Hooley, one of the physicians at the new Charlottetown clinic that opened in November, had this to say:

The early results at the clinic are truly amazing. We are seeing patients turning their energies to other things, gradually. We have seen a number get back to work, and expect many more to do so in the coming months. I would think the indirect cost savings are in the hundreds of thousands, at least to this point, and there would be a significant decline in criminal activity.

That is the whole point of harm reduction, keeping people from getting sicker, helping them to get better.

This issue is very personal for me. I know exactly how drug addiction can affect an individual, all the friends and family who love that person and the community in which they live. I have seen the efforts to quit and the consequences of failing. It is a constant struggle.

For those of you who have not seen it first hand, you should know that drug addiction is not caused by a lack of will, nor is it a failing of character. It is a disease that many fight throughout their lives. The notion that we will not help those who are struggling is outrageous. These are real people with mothers and fathers. Some are mothers and fathers. They are brothers and sisters, sons and daughters. They have value. It is far better that we help them if we can.

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