The City Of Ottawa gave its safer inhalation program — otherwise known as the crack kit exchange program — a mere two years before declaring it a failure despite evidence to the contrary. On Jul 11, Mayor Larry O’Brien called drug users a “sad lot” and urged city councillors to cancel the program that allows them to exchange a used glass pipe for a clean one. Councillors obliged the mayor, voting 15 to seven in favor of cancellation.
Did you get that? At a 2:1 ratio, our elected municipal government turned their backs on scientific evidence and instead voted according to ideology.
All this despite evidence of the crack kit program’s success. University Of Ottawa epidemiologist Lynne Leonard found that the program had reduced the amount of pipe sharing between users that leads to hepatitis C and HIV transmission, helped drug users transition from injecting drugs to the safer option of smoking them, and offered health workers regular contact with a hard to access population. Each one of those interactions was a possibility to do work around stable housing, accessing food, adjusting to life after prison, transitioning out of the sex trade, or changing substance use patterns. And we did all that in just two years. Imagine what we could do in more.
And what did all those benefits cost the city? A mere $8,200 per year. A glass pipe costs 30 cents. A pack of screens costs eight. A mouth piece only four. Four whole cents!
Compare that to fighting a “war on drugs” which began in 1970 — that unwinnable war which uses the threat of jail time to try and scare us into never getting high. Celebrating its 37th birthday this year, the war on drugs has produced dismal results and created the unsafe conditions where HIV and hep C thrive. Those 37 long, painful, costly years of epidemics and death have been an inexcusably high price to pay in the unlikely hope that kids will JUST SAY NO. A multi-billion dollar mistake.
David Salisbury, Ottawa’s chief medical officer, says the hospital bill for a patient who develops AIDS is $600,000. Salisbury implored city council not to axe the program, explaining that it prevented six to 12 Hep C and HIV infections annually. After the vote, councillor Clive Doucet remarked, “We just voted to basically kill six to 12 people a year.”
But enough of this bleeding heart liberalism getting in the way of profits for Sabina Sauter, Sandy Hill B&B owner and crack kit program opponent. Following city council’s vote, Sauter declared, “It’s a great day for Ottawa. It’s a great day for tourism.” True enough, Sabina! Those six to 12 drug users who’ll be infected this year probably don’t travel much and, even if they do, I doubt they’d feel very welcome staying in your home anyway. So fuck ’em! And to really play the martyr card, let’s bitch about how our taxes are rising when we’re paying the $3.6 to 7.2 million for their medical costs a few years from now.
Cause honestly, folks, are we really any better than old Sabina Sauter’s B&B? Hell, at least she got off her ass and marched to City Hall to speak up for what she believes in. We know full well that queer youth face discrimination, harassment and violence at astronomical levels. And we know that when queer youth do come out to their families, they’re chased out of their homes and onto the streets far, far too often. And we know that, once there, many of these queer youth turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with the pain of being young, poor, homeless, and abandoned. And in our heart of hearts, we know it’s by chance and privilege that we escaped the same fate and that few of us can say with certainty that we wouldn’t turn to crack too if we hadn’t.
Queer youth have far fewer means to shape the world they live in than do well-paid, middle-class people like me. They need us to stand with them and fight for the programs that will save their lives. Queer lives. Queer youth need us to get off our couches and get political. To volunteer and fundraise. To write to our politicians. And to be there protesting loud and proud when Mayor O’Brien declares war on our community’s health. If we don’t stand up for the lives of queer youth, they’ll be wiped out all too easily like the crack kit program that could have saved them.
This is the kind of the bullshit that will kill us if we don’t resist. For God’s sake, people: JUST SAY NO!