Letter: Safety nets

Supports for drug users in prison in Rhode Island effective

Safety nets

Safety nets are critical for protecting the vulnerable in society. But some safety nets can actually create problems rather than helping to solve them.

Without a doubt, drug use and related issues need to be addressed. Bill C-216, proposed by the MP for Courtenay-Alberni, calls for decriminalization of possession of drugs and providing a safer supply of drugs. Is this wise?

A documentary, Seattle is dying, directly addresses this issue, comparing the approach of Seattle with that of Rhode Island. In Seattle it is unofficially OK to be in possession of a “user quantity” of drugs. One homeless person there states, “100 per cent of the people here (in the homeless camp tent area) are at some level of addiction”. In Seattle, 3,600 crimes were committed by 100 individuals who were arrested, then released within a short period of time to re-offend. Seattle’s problems have become entrenched.

With the Rhode Island approach, first the laws are enforced (incarceration). Drug addiction is then dealt with through intervention known as MAT (medication assisted treatment). Three opiate blockers work to get addicts off heroin; prisoners are given a choice of blocker to use. Recovery coaches build relationships with the prisoners, then continue those relationships on the “outside”, after release from prison. Centres in the community provide former prisoners with the ongoing prescribed drugs to enable them not to return to addiction. Ninety-three per cent of those who have been in the MAT program are following through with this after release from prison! They have counseling and group meetings (up to three a week) which continue to assist them in staying away from opiates. After three years of this MAT program, there is a 65 per cent decrease in mortality.

Safety nets are necessary for the well-being of society. The right kind of safety net is critical.

Edward Field



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