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HIV infection rate will rise under new anti-drug plan, critics say

Tories take heavy-handed approach to fighting drugs

NDP House leader Libby Davies, shown in this May 2007 file photo, accuses the Tories of trying to close Vancouver's safe injection site. Credit: (Xtra.ca file photo)

The Tories have declared an American-style war on drugs and are trying to ditch harm-reduction programs that reduce the spread of HIV and hepatitis C, said NDP House leader Libby Davies in the Commons on Mon, Jun 4.

In the 2007 federal budget released in March, the Tories quietly outlined their new national anti-drug strategy, which includes $22 million to target gangs and illicit drug producers. Although the full plan has not yet been released, the outline did not mention harm reduction.

Davies accused the Tories of abandoning harm reduction policy, and she claimed the Health Minister and RCMP are trying to shut down Vancouver’s safe injection site. The Vancouver program has been credited for reducing HIV and hepatitis C transmission by reducing needle-sharing among injection drug users.

“[The anti-drug plan] now reads like a carbon copy of George Bush’s war on drugs — which has seen drug use rise, along with skyrocketing social and economic costs of incarceration,” she said.

Anti-drug plan is a queer issue

Gay and bisexual youth are at greater risk than straight youth to try all types of drugs, found a recent study by Vancouver Coastal Health. Among all adult male AIDS cases reported as of Dec 2005, about 4.7 per cent can be attributed to gay injection drug users, reports the Public Health Agency Of Canada.

Injection drug related infections have declined since 2003, the same year that Canada’s only safe injection site opened in Vancouver.

The federal government granted the Vancouver injection site a three-year exemption to federal drug laws. The Tories extended the exemption until the end of this year, but Davies and others claim that they will not grant any further extensions.

Money spent to fight drug production a ‘waste’, critics say

While the budget outlined new money for prevention and treatment, that amount is small compared to the estimated costs of injection-drug on the medical system.

A report released by the federal government in 2001 said “the direct and indirect costs of HIV/AIDS attributed to injection drug use would be $8.7 billion over a six-year period if trends continued.” That number does not include the costs of treating those with hepatitis C, which the report says were expected to exceed the HIV/AIDS medical costs.

Meanwhile, the Tories continue to spend more on enforcing Canada’s drug laws — despite criticism that the heavy-handed approach does not work.

Earlier this year, the BC Centre For Excellence In HIV/AIDS blasted the federal government for spending millions on enforcing drug laws, with little to show for it. The group called on the government to put more money into harm reduction, but the Tories have done just the opposite.

Joanne Csete, the executive director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, says the heavy-handed approach “has been proven time and again to be counter-productive and a tragic waste of public funds.”

“The price will be paid for in increased risk of HIV and hepatitis transmission,” she said.