The Call for the Decriminalization of Illicit Drugs

The Call for the Decriminalization of Illicit Drugs

By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

According to CBC News, there has been a call for the decriminalization of currently illicit drugs in Toronto.

The public health agency director for Montreal is in support of the work in Toronto for all personal uses of illicit drugs  being decriminalized. Dr. Mylène Drouin stated that the efforts towards and advocacy for decriminalization are a part of the ongoing dialogues around Canadians’ best potential public response to the ongoing opioid crisis ravaging the country.

Drouin’s said, “…one of the measures to consider in the public health response to a problem without precedence in numerous Canadian cities.”

There was also a Toronto Public Health released a report making urgent calls for the city council. It spoke to the need of the city council to lobby the federal government in order to decriminalize drug use in addition to increasing harm reduction efforts. Many Torontonians consider the approach to drug abuse or misuse insufficient at this point in time.

The statement by the Montreal public health agency spoke to the experiences of Portugal. This country – Portugal – decriminalized all drugs in 2001. This resulted in a reduction of the use of the courts with greater social integration and a reduction in both barriers and stigma for the users; those citizens dependent on getting treatment for their drug use.

The agency said, “They’ve also recorded fewer drug overdoses overall, a reduction in HIV-infection rates among drug users and a lower level of synthetic drug use.”

There is a $35 million anti-addiction strategy in Quebec. This was announced to help with the provincial efforts working to help with dependence on drugs and, in particular, opioids. There were over 1,000 opioid-related overdose deaths in Ontario in w017. Canada had more than 3,600 in Canada as a whole.

In Quebec, the population is about 2/3rds that  of Ontario and had only 181 deaths in stark contrast to the more than 1,000 in Ontario in 2017. The visitation numbers to the Montreal supervised injection sites doubled in the year “since the safe-injection sites first opened last summer.” This is a sign of a need, and a niche being filled based on the need.

Photo by A. Xromatik on Unsplash

Scott Jacobsen

Scott Jacobsen

Member-at-Large/Writer

(Last Update: September 28, 2016)

Scott Douglas Jacobsen researches and presents independent panels, papers, and posters, and with varied research labs and groups, and part-time in landscaping (lifting, mowing, and raking) and gardening (digging, planting, and weeding). He is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. UCI Ethics Center awarded him with the distinction of Francisco Ayala Scholar (2014) for mentoring, presenting, researching, and writing. If you want to contact Scott, you may inquire or comment through e-mail: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.

He published in American Enterprise InstituteAnnaborgiaConatus NewsEarth Skin & EdenFresh Start Recovery CentreGordon Neighbourhood HouseHuffington PostIn-Sight: Independent Interview-Based JournalJolly DragonsKwantlen Polytechnic University Psychology DepartmentLa Petite MortLearning Analytics Research GroupLifespan Cognition Psychology LabLost in SamaraMarijuana Party of CanadaMomMandyNoesis: The Journal of the Mega SocietyPiece of MindProduction ModeSynapseTeenFinancialThe PeakThe UbysseyThe Voice MagazineTransformative DialoguesTreasure Box KidsTrusted Clothes.

Cannabis Prohibition Can Harm Opioid Harm Reduction

Cannabis Prohibition Can Harm Opioid Harm Reduction

By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

According to CBC News, Jason Mercredi, the executive director of AIDS Saskatoon, stated that many of his clientele uses cannabis in order to combat the more harmful problem of addiction to opiates.

Mercredi believes that the use of cannabis regarding opioids amounts to a harm reduction measure. His concern is the potential increased inaccessibility for people with a ban on cannabis use on property.

The reportage states that there is the potential for harm reduction with opioids ongoing. There may even be the potential for the decrease in the use of opioids through the use of cannabis as a first resort.

“It’s a form of harm reduction and it’s about to be a legal form of harm reduction, except for people who are in poverty and are renting,” said Mercredi, “It makes it quite difficult to cope with their conditions if they can’t use in public or at home. There’s going to be no smoking bars or anything like that.”

Mainstreet Equity owns several hundred rental units in Saskatoon. It announced plans to work on the ban of all smoking on balconies and in the rental units. This will include those who are in need and use medical cannabis.

Mercredi stated, “The number of apartments doing the bans make it fairly hard for people who are living in poverty to use, which is quite concerning… It’s only a matter of time before it goes to the courts.”

Nercredi noted that his clientele use cannabis for one of two reasons. One of those is pain management; the other is to deal with trauma. Those without a prescription will continue to stick to vaping.

One researcher at the B.C. Centre on Substance Use, Dr. MJ Milloy, explained, “The clinical trial evidence which physicians rely on to make clinical decisions, that’s not there… It seems like a no-brainer to have it so people can use in their homes.”

Photo by Spencer Watson on Unsplash

Scott Jacobsen

Scott Jacobsen

Member-at-Large/Writer

(Last Update: September 28, 2016)

Scott Douglas Jacobsen researches and presents independent panels, papers, and posters, and with varied research labs and groups, and part-time in landscaping (lifting, mowing, and raking) and gardening (digging, planting, and weeding). He is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. UCI Ethics Center awarded him with the distinction of Francisco Ayala Scholar (2014) for mentoring, presenting, researching, and writing. If you want to contact Scott, you may inquire or comment through e-mail: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.

He published in American Enterprise InstituteAnnaborgiaConatus NewsEarth Skin & EdenFresh Start Recovery CentreGordon Neighbourhood HouseHuffington PostIn-Sight: Independent Interview-Based JournalJolly DragonsKwantlen Polytechnic University Psychology DepartmentLa Petite MortLearning Analytics Research GroupLifespan Cognition Psychology LabLost in SamaraMarijuana Party of CanadaMomMandyNoesis: The Journal of the Mega SocietyPiece of MindProduction ModeSynapseTeenFinancialThe PeakThe UbysseyThe Voice MagazineTransformative DialoguesTreasure Box KidsTrusted Clothes.

The Responses and Costs to Addiction, Now

The Responses and Costs to Addiction, Now

By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

According to the Vancouver Sun, there is an addiction problem not only within British Columbia but across all Canada.

The questions about the health of Canadian citizens comes in the form of the addiction problems of the culture. The addictions not given compassion care, and concern but, more appropriately, the punitive and harsh approaches seen with heavier penalties in jails and reduction in the consideration for the external factors of individuals addicted to a substance.

The problem, or part of it, according to the reportage, is the difficulty in the ability to find and access the services needed for the population of addicts. Those who want to get or acquire the help but cannot get access to it.

It becomes an issue in the distribution of services to the Canadian citizens – disproportionately Indigenous – who most need the services. The tiny increases in governmental funding for these services are, as they  should be – based on the evidence, transmitted to the efforts of the harm reduction community.

Those people who adhere to the evidence, philosophy, and implementation via the methodology of harm reduction for individuals suffering from substance use. People are dying. They are being killed by overdoses at an increasing rate due to low funding and negligence of services for them.

The Director of the B.C. Centre  on Substance Use, Evan Wood, stated, “There are structural reasons that we don’t have a functioning system for addictions care that are driven by a number of factors, one being stigma. So, ribbon-cutting for things related to substance use and addiction have traditionally not been attractive to politicians… In recent years, we’ve had a lot of, a number of, courageous politicians who have stepped up, who have been convinced, so that is changing. But this hasn’t been an attractive area to devote resources to.”

Many of the users of substances in the province and across the nation do not  get the needed support mechanism due to barriers. Not for lack of trying. Based on a new report entitled “Strategies to Strengthen Recovery in British Columbia: The Path Forward,” there are a number of recommendations on the table in order to deal with the opioid and other crises involving substances throughout the nation.

These include the universal access to the addictions treatment paid for by the Medical Services Plan. In addition, there are about one million British Columbians who suffer from a the chronic illness known as addiction, which makes this highly prevalent and almost certainly means someone at some time, even right now, know someone within their own family who is suffering from addiction of some form.

The financial – leaving alone the moral considerations, ethical dilemmas – costs  are in the billions of dollars, which is a staggering amount of money to be taken into account given the kind of problem that we are facing; the form of crisis confronting us at the moment.

One co-author on the report, Marshall Smith, explained, “Recovery is for everyone. Can people always attain that? Not necessarily. And not necessarily off the bat. Some need some more support… That should be the gold-standard and the goal of every addiction program — to assertively assist in getting people on trajectory to remission, improved health and positive engaged citizenship.”

More information in the new report.

Photo by Amritanshu Sikdar on Unsplash

Scott Jacobsen

Scott Jacobsen

Member-at-Large/Writer

(Last Update: September 28, 2016)

Scott Douglas Jacobsen researches and presents independent panels, papers, and posters, and with varied research labs and groups, and part-time in landscaping (lifting, mowing, and raking) and gardening (digging, planting, and weeding). He is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. UCI Ethics Center awarded him with the distinction of Francisco Ayala Scholar (2014) for mentoring, presenting, researching, and writing. If you want to contact Scott, you may inquire or comment through e-mail: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.

He published in American Enterprise InstituteAnnaborgiaConatus NewsEarth Skin & EdenFresh Start Recovery CentreGordon Neighbourhood HouseHuffington PostIn-Sight: Independent Interview-Based JournalJolly DragonsKwantlen Polytechnic University Psychology DepartmentLa Petite MortLearning Analytics Research GroupLifespan Cognition Psychology LabLost in SamaraMarijuana Party of CanadaMomMandyNoesis: The Journal of the Mega SocietyPiece of MindProduction ModeSynapseTeenFinancialThe PeakThe UbysseyThe Voice MagazineTransformative DialoguesTreasure Box KidsTrusted Clothes.

Interview with Alex Betsos – Co-Founder, Karmik

Interview with Alex Betsos – Co-Founder, Karmik

By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What is Karmik?

Alex Betsos: Karmik is a nightlife/festival harm reduction organization based out of Vancouver, although they do work all over BC.

Jacobsen: What has been its developmental trajectory?

Betsos: Karmik started out as a conversation between myself, Margaret Yu, and Munroe. Margy and I met in Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy at Simon Fraser University where I did my undergraduate degree. I started out as the volunteer coordinator, in part because I was Margy’s resident drug nerd, with an extensive interest in harm reduction. We actually did a small harm reduction workshop with CSSDP back in 2013, and even worked a show at Red Room in Vancouver, but it never went further than that [I have a picture of this if you want]. Karmik since its inception in 2014 has gone from 3 coordinators and a couple volunteers just trying to figure out how to do harm reduction in Vancouver, to an internationally engaged harm reduction project. I’m proud of my little harm reduction baby, and it still breaks my heart that I cannot be involved at this time. I still do some advising for my former colleagues from time to time, but that’s mostly between friends having a beer at this point, nothing formal.

Jacobsen: Now, you are in graduate school. However, what has been your role in it? What is your current role in it?

Betsos: I am not involved with Karmik at this point. I stepped back, as my access to things like the Karmik email were a clear conflict of interest for me in relation to my future research.

In the past I was the volunteer coordinator. My job was to structure the training’s, organize them, and also be the bridge between the volunteers and the staff. One of the things about working at a tiny organization is that you normally pick up a couple of other roles too. I also did a lot of the more science-based research stuff, and at some point, picked up communicating with some of the music festivals and drafting the budget. On top of that all of the Karmik coordinators are also event coordinators. That means we go to events, and work with the volunteers to disseminate harm reduction information while making sure people are doing alright.

Jacobsen: How is your graduate school work (congratulations, by the way,) helping with the work in harm reduction, night life, and so on? How is it helping you deep interest in philosophy too, of which I am aware?

Betsos: I’m not sure how much I can say about my research at this point as it is in the preliminary stage. In the past, I have tended to focus on how drug knowledge becomes disseminated and contested. For now I’ll just say that what I’m doing is relatively similar.

My graduate school work does not have a direct impact on harm reduction, or at least not yet (also thanks!). My research area is medical anthropology and science and technology studies. I’m much more interested (at least for now) in how ideas about drugs come to exist. What are the cultural paradigms, the identities of people involved with drugs, whether that’s researchers, activists, or people who use drugs. I kind of come from a mindset where I want my research to be applicable, inasmuch as it shows the nuances drug prohibition. One of the areas where there is a real lack of research on drug prohibition broadly, is with non-marginalized people (that includes people who use drugs, but also people who create services for people who use drugs). My bachelor’s research, for example, explored drug knowledge on online forums, particularly focusing on research chemicals. In a world where drugs are illegal, how do people who use drugs acquire knowledge, and make decisions?

This kind of works in with my philosophy questions around what science is and how it is engaged with by a public. Even the question of what counts as knowledge comes into tension when you’re talking about the experience of drugs and what clinicians might say about drugs.

Jacobsen: How are organizations including CSSDP and Karmik improving the advancement of harm reduction in Canada and British Columbia?

Betsos: So, there are kind of two aspects to CSSDP, there are the local chapters, and then there is the national board. On the local chapter level, I’ve seen drug policy students push for naloxone training, access to drug checking, and safer drug information. On the national level one of the things we’ve done is put out a guide on cannabis education for youth that is based on a harm reduction model. By focusing on harm reduction in cannabis I kind of hope we can shift the perspective on harm reduction more broadly.

Karmik is the advancement of harm reduction in British Columbia! I’m exaggerating, but it is definitely part of the process of making harm reduction more broadly accepted. Munroe has put so much effort into making sure that people have access to naloxone, as well as being involved in working groups. Before Pemberton Music Festival went bankrupt, we had a sanctuary presence there for two years, and last year we did a pilot run on a new style of Sanctuary space at Center of Gravity. One of the biggest things I always thought was important with Karmik though was just providing people in the nightlife community with solid harm reduction information. There were no harm reduction booths at events in Vancouver really before Karmik (although there were some organizations in the past). When I was volunteer coordinator we also taught a lot of people about harm reduction practices. If that in itself is not an advancement, I’m not sure what is.

Jacobsen: What has been the feedback from the younger population and from the professional communities (academic and research)?

Betsos: I have never met someone that did not like what Karmik was doing. I’m not aware of much focus on Karmik in research. It’s worth noting that Karmik is kind of the small kid on the block. Organizations like Dancesafe, ANKORS, Trip! Project, have been around for a really long time, and so in a lot of ways they are better for studying.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Alex.

Image Credit: Alex Betsos.

Scott Jacobsen

Scott Jacobsen

Member-at-Large/Writer

(Last Update: September 28, 2016)

Scott Douglas Jacobsen researches and presents independent panels, papers, and posters, and with varied research labs and groups, and part-time in landscaping (lifting, mowing, and raking) and gardening (digging, planting, and weeding). He is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. UCI Ethics Center awarded him with the distinction of Francisco Ayala Scholar (2014) for mentoring, presenting, researching, and writing. If you want to contact Scott, you may inquire or comment through e-mail: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.

He published in American Enterprise InstituteAnnaborgiaConatus NewsEarth Skin & EdenFresh Start Recovery CentreGordon Neighbourhood HouseHuffington PostIn-Sight: Independent Interview-Based JournalJolly DragonsKwantlen Polytechnic University Psychology DepartmentLa Petite MortLearning Analytics Research GroupLifespan Cognition Psychology LabLost in SamaraMarijuana Party of CanadaMomMandyNoesis: The Journal of the Mega SocietyPiece of MindProduction ModeSynapseTeenFinancialThe PeakThe UbysseyThe Voice MagazineTransformative DialoguesTreasure Box KidsTrusted Clothes.

CSSDP UBC Hosts Art Show and Dialogue on the Opioid Crisis

CSSDP UBC Hosts Art Show and Dialogue on the Opioid Crisis

In Vancouver, there is no lack of awareness that we are in the midst of an opioid overdose crisis. With roughly four individuals in BC losing their lives to a drug overdose every day, many of us have been personally affected in some way by this crisis. Although we often see coverage of the opioid crisis in the news, what we rarely see is how students and young people in BC are experiencing this crisis. But, this isn’t because students aren’t affected. In November, members of CSSDP UBC helped facilitate naloxone training for over 100 students at UBC. There was such high demand for this event that the student society had to schedule another naloxone training party a few weeks later. Despite this, there is still a level of stigma attached to openly discussing experiences with opioids and other illicit drugs. We wanted to change that.

Our chapter received a community grant from UVic’s Canadian Institute of Substance Use Research (CISUR) to organize a community dialogue on opioids. CISUR’s vision of a dialogue involves bringing together individuals who may hold diverse opinions and perspectives to engage in a two-way exchange of knowledge with the goal of developing a better understanding of each other. We knew that we wanted to bring students together to share their experiences and opinions on various aspects of the opioid crisis, and we decided that art would be a great way to draw in students and stimulate these important conversations. We put out a call for artists to submit work related to opioids or drugs more generally, and within a few weeks, we had received multiple submissions!

On March 28th, we turned a public study space at UBC’s student union building into a pop-up art gallery. The gallery, showcasing a diverse selection of art, exemplified the wide-reaching impact the crisis has had on young people in BC. The gallery featured two photo series that depicted two very different views on drug use. One was a series of photos from a photovoice project entitled “Living in the Best Place on Earth”, led by medical anthropologist Danya Fast. This project involved marginalized youth on the downtown eastside using photography to capture their day-to-day interactions with various social and physical spaces that shape their risk of drug-related harm. The other photo series, entitled “The Good Side of Drug Use”, was created by CSSDP member and UBC anthropology doctoral student Hilary Agro and vibrantly depicted portraits of friends and new acquaintances who use drugs. This series, which was set at Burning Man, was shown to help destigmatize drug use by reminding us that many different people use drugs for a variety of reasons including pleasure and social connectedness.

Emily Carr student Dani Martire showed two installation art pieces made from one medical patient’s year’s worth of pharmaceutical prescription sheets and medication instructions. These pieces highlighted the challenges of navigating the medical system and how this struggle can be tightly linked with addiction. Vancouver Community College student Mildred German showed an oil painting that colourfully and powerfully illustrated the devastating role that social stigma plays in the opioid crisis.

UBC art graduate Emma Windsor-Liscombe installed a large floating scroll that depicted stages along the life of her cousin, who died tragically from an opioid overdose. Emma’s six illustrations across the scroll were in the style of ancient tomb artwork, illustrating her cousin’s struggle with addiction that started with being the victim of sexual violence at age 13. Finally, Seattle artist Aurora Bartells, showed three illustrations that reflect on the experience of opioid addiction from her recovery perspective.

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We hosted roundtables with artists and attendees within the gallery space to provide an opportunity for students and young people to discuss how the crisis has impacted them and those around them, particularly in the context of being a student. We exchanged ideas about ways to move forward for a healthier and safer environment on campus during this crisis. In these discussions, students acknowledged that drugs are often used non-problematically and for a variety of reasons, but this fact doesn’t seem to shape the way many universities approach or respond to drug use. At a time when students may be at increased risk of harm from drug use that would generally be considered non-problematic in the absence of the opioid crisis, a take-away from these conversations was that campuses should have a spectrum of resources in place for students, from those who use drugs occasionally and without problems to those looking for help.

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See the Ubyssey’s coverage of the event here.

If your chapter is interested in using art as a stimulus for dialogue around drugs and drug policy, feel free to contact Stephanie Lake, CSSDP board member and chapter president for CSSDP UBC: stephanie@cssdp.org.

Stephanie Lake

Stephanie Lake

Co-Secretary

Stephanie is a doctoral student in population and public health at the University of British Columbia, where she is currently undertaking research to better understand the links between cannabis, opioids, and drug-related morbidity.
Find out more.