EDITOR'S NOTE: The following letter exceeded 400 words, the maximum for a letter in print. At the writer's request, we are publishing it online, in its entirety.

Dear Editor:

Re: "Abstinence works best" editorial, by Joe Fries (Herald, Aug. 16).

Seattle isn’t “dying” because of harm reduction efforts as Joe Fries’ poorly researched editorial suggests. Seattle, like much of North America, is at a critical intersection of job losses, housing unattainability, and the irresponsible marketing of legal opioids by private pharmaceutical companies. At the heart of these crises are blue collar workers losing jobs in manufacturing, mills, and physically harmful trades. The deinstitutionalization of mental health facilities, during a period of rapid transformation of low income neighbourhoods into luxury investment opportunities, combined with critical cuts to workers compensation, health care, and social aid is to blame for today’s alarming socio-economic disparities, not evidence based solutions like supportive housing or harm reduction. By the end of “Seattle is Dying” (propaganda produced by a right wing Trump affiliated media outlet) viewers want to “lock them up”. Force drug users into prison rehab like Rhode Island.

Unmentioned is the fact these inmates voluntarily participate in treatment. This is not a punitive “cold turkey” approach, but medication assisted therapy- just like BC offers. Rhode Island also spends more per inmate than other USA states. Are advocates of this model willing to pay more taxes?

B.C. already pays around $230 per inmate every day. Our prisons are overcrowded and understaffed and locally we struggle to fill RCMP vacancies. If punishment is so effective, why are North American prisons including the Okanagan Correctional Centre hubs of drug use and trafficking? Singapore hangs you for drug charges but even their war on drugs has failed.

In the USA, private prisons are a billion dollar industry, so it’s no surprise their investors are eager to “lock them up”. But Trumpian rhetoric, and Reagan’s failed policies like the disastrous war on drugs and cuts to social services to benefit the most wealthy at the expense of the most disadvantaged have no place in Canada. 

Canada’s early settlers, farmers, factory and public sector workers formed unions, wheat boards, cooperatives, and civil societies to support one another in hard times. The next generation fought for universal health care and socially democratic laws so no Canadian would be left behind.

Similarly, the wellness traditions of Indigenous Canadians promote a holistic network of support. In this nation, healing is a journey supported by community, not a road you must walk alone. Meanwhile, the USA incarcerates more citizens than any other nation and allows citizens to die if they can’t afford medical care. At this point in history, we ought to be aligning ourselves with the progressive vision of our national icon Tommy Douglas, not the current White House occupant.

While some want to let their fellow citizens die in the streets to save a buck, I was tremendously grateful to be Canadian last year when my brother suffered brain injuries in a random workplace assault that left him unconscious in the ER. Our doctors do not require your tax returns or a ‘pure’ urine test before saving your life, and we should all be grateful lest it be you or your child next time who is found unconscious without identification. 

We can all do more to save tax-payer dollars, but no one is demanding you have less children or prove you ate well and exercised properly before we deliver and educate your babies, or grant you a triple bypass or a new knee. ER visits cost tax-payers a premium per visit.  

Preventative treatments save lives and taxpayer dollars, whether the ailment is heart disease or substance addiction.

Each case and individual is different. Qualified health care professionals must be able to work with a multi-faceted kit of tools based on peer reviewed clinical studies, not public opinion polls.  To treat addiction, they recommend decriminalization,low barrier housing, psychiatric therapies, managed or graduated withdrawal treatments, harm reduction, and supervised consumption sites.

These strategies save lives, and are the most cost effective because they alleviate strains on policing, prisons, social, and emergency services. No single treatment method returns universal success.

Abstinence works for some patients, but for others, a prescribed dose of alcohol or methadose helps return functions to ‘normal’ so they can rejoin the workforce, and yes, contribute those dang tax dollars too. 

Countries like Singapore may have “clean” streets you could eat a country ham off of, thanks to super militarized government control. But allowing the state, the police, or vigilant citizens that kind of power over human life, rather than extending a path towards healing is a slippery slope this Canadian refuses to go down.

Amanda Poon