Tag Archives: drugs

The British do so much cocaine, it shows up in their drinking water

Oh those up tight Brits.

The Illuminati-sounding Drinking Water Inspectorate found traces of the drug’s metabolized form, benzoylecgonine, at four inspection sites, peed out by coked-up Brits and not completely removed during water plants’ “intensive purification treatments.” The scientists also found trace amounts of caffeine, epilepsy medication, and pain-killer ibuprofen.

Steve Rolles, from the drug policy think tank Transform, told The Sunday Times that the findings were an indication of the scale of the use of the drug in Britain today. “We have the near highest level of cocaine use in western Europe,” he said. “It has also been getting cheaper and cheaper at the same time as its use has been going up.”

According to the charity DrugScope, there are around 180,000 dependent users of crack cocaine in England, and nearly 700,000 people aged 16-59 are estimated to take cocaine every year in Britain.

Lance Armstrong is a fraud

I considered myself a Lance Armstrong fan but as the evidence grew, I started to resign myself to accepting that he was doping.  Then I read this and realized it he was cheating the entire time.

Beginning with his first doping experiences as a member of the U.S Postal Service team in 1997, Hamilton reveals not only what he and other riders were doing and taking (EPO, steroids, testosterone, Actovegin, blood transfusions, and on and on), but also how they were taking it (in the case of EPO, intravenously—and Hamilton has the scar to prove it). He tells us how most riders evaded detection (one trick: French laws bar testers from showing up between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., so cyclists “microdosed” EPO at ten and the drug was gone by morning) and how the game was rigged in a way that made testing nearly irrelevant (“If you were careful and paid attention,” writes Hamilton, “you could dope and be 99 percent certain that you would not get caught”). Supporters still clinging to the claim that Armstrong passed more than 500 drug controls will be shocked to learn how insignificant those tests really were.

He goes on

The drugs are everywhere, and as Hamilton explains, Armstrong was not just another cyclist caught in the middle of an established drug culture — he was a pioneer pushing into uncharted territory. In this sense, the book destroys another myth: that everyone was doing it, so Armstrong was, in a weird way, just competing on a level playing field. There was no level playing field. With his connections to Michele Ferrari, the best dishonest doctor in the business, Armstrong was always “two years ahead of what everybody else was doing,” Hamilton writes. Even on the Postal squad there was a pecking order. Armstrong got the superior treatments.

What ultimately makes the book so damning, however, is that it doesn’t require readers to put their full faith in Hamilton’s word. In the book’s preface, which details its genesis, Coyle not so subtly addresses Armstrong’s supporters by pointing out that, while the story is told through Hamilton, nine former Postal teammates agreed to cooperate with him on The Secret Race, verifying and corroborating Hamilton’s account. Nine teammates.

And about those 500 passed drug tests

The 2011 60 Minutes story on Armstrong’s doping reported that he had once failed a drug test in 2001 at the Tour of Switzerland, a story Hamilton backs up: “Yes, Lance Armstrong tested positive at the Tour of Switzerland.” He describes an encounter with Armstrong just after Stage 9 of the race. “You won’t fucking believe this,” he allegedly told Hamilton. “I got popped for EPO.” According to the 60 Minutes investigation, the UCI stepped in after the positive test, requesting that “the matter go no further,” and then set up a meeting between the lab’s director, Armstrong, and team director Johan Bruyneel. The insinuation is clear: Lance was using connections within the UCI to help his cause. Hamilton describes a climate in which this doesn’t seem at all far-fetched. “Sometime after that, I remember Lance phoning Hein Verbruggen from the team bus … and I was struck by the casual tone of the conversation. Lance was talking to the president of the UCI, the leader of the sport. But he may as well have been talking to a business partner, a friend.”

I leave the last word to Lance Armstrong.

I kind of feel sorry for him.

The Drug Cartels Move North

Invasion of the Drug Cartels

Some are taking the law into their own hands.

Which is crazy but you kind of understand it when you think of the violence that happens in those border communities because of the drugs and gangs that are flooding across the border.  Either way, after looking at the infographic you kind of get the idea that Stephen Harper was right when he said that the War on Drugs has failed.

Is Usain Bolt (and everyone else) on Steroids?

From Muscle Week.  Apparently passing those IOC drug tests isn’t that hard.

A typical PED cycle would begin 12 weeks out from competition with the target date being the day prior to or of the competition. Along with the use of undetectable steroids and daily growth hormone injections, the athlete would also have his blood drawn on a daily basis to monitor his testosterone and rhGH ratios in an effort to keep them within Olympic World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) testing limits. Close monitoring of these ratios allow an Olympic sprinter such as Bolt to both use PEDs up to the day of competition while still comfortably submitting to multiple drug tests.

This isn’t evidence particular to Usain Bolt, as it could just as easily describe the protocol that every Olympic sprinter is using to pass the drug tests. However, it is mentioned simply to point out how easily Olympic athletes are able to pass an Olympic-level drug test, even with the highest levels of scrutiny. The bottom line is that if an athlete is within the permissible testosterone and rhGH ratios, he is deemed clean. The reality is that any athlete who doesn’t maximize his testosterone and rhGH levels to the maximum permissible level has no chance of breaking a world record.

For example, let’s assume that a talented NCAA sprinter has a testosterone ratio (testosterone: epitestosterone) of 1:1 which is considered normal, or average. The current WADA guidelines permit a ratio of up to 4:1. Given the fact that the only way for an NCAA sprinter to make any money sprinting is to win international competitions and garner endorsements, what reason could that NCAA sprinter possibly have for NOT quadrupling his testosterone ratio up to the maximum of 4:1? Using a number of undetectable steroid compounds, that same athlete would presumably see a major improvement in his sprint times without ever testing positive.

And this is the folly of drug testing: It gives dirty athletes all the ammunition they need to proclaim themselves clean replete with Olympic level testing results.

United States Olympic Gold Medalist Marion Jones proudly proclaimed that she passed more than 160 drug tests in her career. The fact remains that she won three gold medals at the 2000 Olympics while passing the supposedly stringent requirements of Olympic WADA testing.

And yet, despite breaking world records in the 100m and 200m sprints; despite being romantically involved with and coached by Olympic shot-putter CJ Hunter who tested positive for steroids four times leading up to the 2000 Olympics and was subsequently banned by the ITAF; despite being romantically involved with and coached by Olympic sprinter Tim Montgomery who tested positive for steroids and was subsequently banned; despite training under track coach Trevor Graham who has been banned for life from track and field; and despite her affiliation with BALCO Labs and the insistence of BALCO president Victor Conte who admitted to injecting Marion Jones with steroids, the general public and sports journalists were still gullible enough to believe that Marion Jones was in fact, a clean athlete.

As Marion Jones proved, testing clean means absolutely nothing.

So does that mean that Bolt is doing it?  Well his coach refers to himself as a chemist and used to work for BALCO.

According to the New York Times, Usain Bolt’s track coach Angel Hernandez has referred to himself as a chemist, scientist and nutritionist.

Pop Quiz #2: Why would the world’s top natural sprinter need the services of a chemist affiliated with BALCO and multiple dirty sprinters?

Answer: A logical response would be that Usain Bolt isn’t any more clean than Marion Jones, Justin Gatlin, Ben Johnson, Tim Montgomery, or even Jamaican-born U.S. sprinter Debbie Dunn who bowed out of the 2012 Olympics just days prior to the opening ceremonies when she tested positive for a testosterone derivative.

Logic would seem to dictate that sprinters need sprint coaches, not chemists. But no, Usain Bolt needs a chemist.

As an interview with De Spielgel

SPIEGEL: So you became a therapist for the athletes in matters of drugs?

Heredia: More like a coach. Together we found out what was good for which body and what the decomposition times were. I designed schedules for cocktails and regimens that depended on the money the athletes offered me. Street drugs for little money, designer drugs for tens of thousands. Usually I sent the drugs by mail, but sometimes the athletes came to me.

Read the entire post by yourself but something isn’t right whether it is with Bolt or the entire IOC testing protocols.

Anesthetists on drugs pose a danger to patients

From Postmedia

They can’t wear long sleeves in the operating room, which would hide the track marks on their arms, so they inject the drugs into less visible veins in their legs, thighs or the folds between their toes.

It’s not difficult; anesthetists are extraordinarily skilled at finding veins.

Some will tape an IV needle and tubing from a vein in their foot to their ankle, or from an arm vein to their back, with a port hanging over their shoulder beneath their scrubs. It makes it easier to secretly inject at work that way.

Anesthetists – the doctors who keep patients alive during surgery, who essentially take over our breathing – make up just three per cent of all doctors, but account for 20 to 30 per cent of drug-addicted MDs. Experts say anesthetists are overrepresented in addiction treatment programs by a ratio of three to one, compared with any other physician group, an occupational hazard that could pose catastrophic risks to their patients.

Their drugs of choice are most frequently fentanyl and sufentanil, opioids that are 100 and 1,000 times more potent than morphine. They "divert" a portion of the doses meant for their patients to themselves, slipping syringes into their pockets.

Column: MDs aiding prescription abuse

My column in today’s The StarPhoenix

A well-known drug addict went to four doctors last summer and got four prescriptions for morphine on the same day. He had the prescriptions filled at different pharmacies, which gave him more than enough morphine to abuse, sell or trade.

That’s exactly the kind of abuse that the province tried to prevent in 1995 when it introduced the Pharmaceutical Information Program (PIP). It’s a computer network designed to help doctors and pharmacists keep on top of what is being prescribed, to make sure there are not any drug incompatibilities and, as PIP’s goals state: "Provide information needed to minimize drug abuse, diversion and misuse."

That didn’t happen in this case.

Usually the system works well. I am a Type 2 diabetic who keeps it under control by taking two medications – Metformin and Glyburide. I get my prescription from my doctor, who gives me some refills. When the refills are done, I need to return to see him. After talking and checking me over, he enters a new prescription into the computer which I can then take to the pharmacy.

This is for two drugs that have absolutely no street value and aren’t narcotics, but they are still tracked by PIP. It’s the same for most of us prescribed medicine, if the doctor is doing his or her job.

However, for some a prescription is a gateway to other drugs. Ritalin is a good example. One woman I know sells her Ritalin so that she can buy another guy’s morphine to shoot up. Obviously her ADHD was under control enough that she could complete a drug deal and still be focused enough to get high.

In a couple of weeks she’ll get her refill and the cycle will continue, probably until a dirty needle ends it for her.

How common is this? A 2007 report by the Canadian Centre for Substance Abuse notes there is "minimum" research in the area of prescription medication abuse. The few studies that do exist state that about 10 per cent of patients at rehab centres are getting help for prescription drug abuse.

A study of seven Canadian urban centres showed that about 30 per cent to 40 per cent of drug users are abusing at least one prescription narcotic, with drugs such as Percodan being the favourites. A 2006 study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal showed that morphine and OxyContin are replacing heroin as the drug of choice for many Canadians.

How do they get these drugs? Double-doctoring is a big part of the problem. You get a prescription from one doctor, and you go to another and present the same symptoms. If the first (second, third or fourth) prescription doesn’t get entered into PIP, you get your drug supply.

PIP does try to take care of privacy concerns and allows people to "opt out," which I have been told by addicts makes it easier to get their prescription. While many doctors won’t prescribe narcotics if someone has opted out of the program, some others do.

More disturbingly, some doctors will prescribe what you ask for. Someone I knew proved that three years ago by walking into a doctor’s office and saying his back was sore.

He came out with a prescription (and refill) for morphine. This doctor had a reputation for "giving you what you wanted," which, as you can guess, often is narcotics.

Why is it a big deal? There’s the moral aspect, but there’s an economic side, as well. You and I pay for these drugs prescribed to people on the provincial supplementary health program.

Depending on how you look at it, the provincial government is either the biggest drug dealer in Saskatchewan or the biggest enabler, with our backing.

You can’t tell me it’s impossible to stop or curtail this problem. Saskatchewan has centralized drug purchasing, centralized medical billing, and the centralized PIP in place, and yet the abuse continues. I know that physicians are independent contractors, but if a doctor writes an abnormal amount of prescriptions for OxyContin, morphine or other narcotics over an extended period, why isn’t that investigated? Why aren’t red flags raised at pharmacies when multiple prescriptions for the same drug are being filled? Finally, why isn’t the Health Ministry getting involved when these cases slip through?

I know that our society puts doctors on a pedestal. Believe me, when I am sick, I want to be treated by a good one. However, if because of profit, incompetence or laziness, doctors are hurting the people they took an oath to help, we need to get them out of the system. Saskatchewan won’t ever need doctors that badly.

© Copyright (c) The StarPhoenix

Looking at harm reduction from a Christian perspective

So Calgary has stopped giving out free crack pipes as part of it’s harm reduction strategy.

Free crack pipeSince 2008, Alberta Health Services had been giving out crack-pipe kits as part of the Safeworks program, an effort to reduce transmittable diseases. The kits contained a glass pipe, mouthpiece and cleaning tool and were handed out in an AHS van.

More than 14,500 crack pipes were given out as of June 2011.

However, AHS has discontinued the Safeworks crack-pipe program as of Tuesday, citing the “potential for a legal challenge with respect to distribution.”

Tim Richter, Calgary Homeless Foundation CEO, said the program was an effective first step in engaging hardcore, street-involved crack addicts.

“We’re disappointed the program has been cancelled in the fashion it was,” Richter said. “Harm reduction and giving these crack pipes out was good, smart public health.

“It seems like a knee-jerk reaction on fairly simplistic moralistic ground.”

Some groups, including the Calgary Police Association, recently expressed concerns with the Safeworks program prior to its cancellation. CPA president John Dooks said it set a dangerous precedent.

“It’s implying you can use elicit drugs or unlawful drugs in a safe manner,” Dooks said. “The message should be there is no safe way to use drugs,”

I grew up and still am an evangelical Christian.  My grandmother was president of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union in Saskatchewan and I work for the Salvation Army which coined the phrase “demon rum”.  Being against harm reduction and all for abstinence is in my DNA.   I hate what the drugs do to people.  I see it every day but for that very reason, I am for harm reduction.  Here’s why.  By the virtue that people are coming for free crack pipes, they are doing two things.  Realizing that things are out of control and putting themselves in contact with the very people that can help them.  That’s why Insite works.  Insite isn’t for just any heroin addict.  It’s for the addicts that realize that they need help and can’t continue on the path that they are on.  Insite isn’t a destination, it’s the start of the journey.  The same is with grabbing a crack pipe from a street worker, they are admitting that something is wrong and taking a small step in the right direction.

In Saskatoon there is still some debate about needle distribution, a debate I can’t understand, even from a Christian perspective.  You have drug users using dirty needles, passing them around, getting high.  Statistics tell us that they are at a very high risk of contracting HIV or Hep C, both are costly diseases to fight and we know many users don’t fight it.  As a friend who runs another agency once told me, up to half of our mutual clients have untreated HIV/Aids on any given night.  The more I think about it, the more I agree with her.  As a Christian who wants the best for them, by taking the needles/crack pipes away, we are just complicating things.  I am increasing the risk of a disease that will hinder them rest of their lives or shorten it drastically.  A lack of harm reduction options increases healthcare costs in addition to lost potential due to a shortness of life or a diminished capacity for life.  

The main reason to do so doesn’t seem to be a legal reason or even a moralistic one, it seems to be driven out of societies dislike and discomfort with addicts and their lifestyles and a desire to punish them.  If I can nuance Tim Richter’s stance, this isn’t about a moral stand, it’s a puritan stand, one that says that people that do wrong must be punished.

In my years of working at the Salvation Army, I have known one guy that enjoyed being an addict.  The rest hate it and want out but can’t do it yet.  On my walks home I run into a client who for years was an ass to deal with.  Was always angry at me, always yelling, and threatening.  One night he walked in and was clean of the drugs and was quite a nice guy.  Entirely different.  Part of his path out his hell was harm reduction.  He’s been clean (and struggling) ever since then.  He rents a place not far from me and is scraping out a legit existence doing a variety of jobs.  He stops by to chat when he sees that Wendy and I are around and stops by Wendy’s work to say hello to her.  Every time I see him he is always telling me that he is amazed that his drugs didn’t destroy his relationship with the Salvation Army and myself and goes on to say over and over again, how they destroyed almost everything else in his life.  His story isn’t unique.  I could insert in a variety of names and contexts into that story and the pain is always the same. 

When we look at drugs users, the explanation is that it is either a personal choice or they have a low genetic tolerance towards it (in describing Aboriginal Drug Abuse).  Both of these answers have the same underlying principle, it’s not my fault or responsibility.  One thing we overlook is the societal aspect of drug and alcohol abuse.  Drug and alcohol abuse on reserves was not a problem until the Residential Schools opened (The damage was done to those taken and those left behind.  How would you handle it if the RCMP took your children a part of a government policy.  I know I would be seriously messed up if I lost Ollie and Mark).  Now I do meet some men and women that came from extremely stable households who for whatever reason decided to self destruct with drugs as a personal lifestyle choice but for the most part the drug use is a result of escaping horrible family situations, mental health issues and is a part of concurrent disorders.  In other words the kind of individuals that we as a society have an obligation to help the most.  For decades Canada has had a social safety net for those that need this kind of help.  It has generally come in the form of healthcare or Social Assistance but as the drugs have become more potent and addictive, the solutions are more complicated as well.  Harm reduction works.  It’s not about the pipe, it’s about the pathway out the personal hell they are living in.  Alberta Health was wrong to back down and all of Albertans will pay the costs.  It’s my Christian faith that calls out for harm reduction strategies, it’s fear and a lack of grace that fights against them.

Notes:

1. My grandmother would be totally opposed to EVERYTHING that I wrote in this post.

2. I believe the phrase demon rum should be used more often than it is.  I try to use it as much as I can at work but to be honest, no one drinks rum anymore and it seems awfully judgemental to say about anything else.

What happens when the supply of OxyContin dries up

Addicts start using heroin

An E.R. doctor in the Pacific Northwest who writes a blog called “Movin’ Meat” might seem an unlikely candidate to know the economics of street drugs. But since he treats overdoses, he’s learned quite a bit. Recently, he noticed a spike in novice heroin injectors right around the time that the supply of OxyContin got very tight. His patients told him that since the price of OxyContin had tripled (if you could find it at all), they made the switch to heroin.

Why I Help Addicts Shoot Up

Great article in Christian Week about Insite

Insite Something about seeing people at their lowest and most desperate, half-clothed from turning tricks for drugs while hating themselves for it, opens into a profound level of intimacy. I am blessed to enter the darkest place of people whose sins are far more public than those of the rest of us. Constant humiliation makes the people I work with especially vulnerable, and vulnerable in almost every way: to violence, to exploitation, to false hope and finally to despair. When allowed into these dark places, it is my privilege, and that of all InSite staff, to communicate worth and love instead of judgment and scorn.

The day nurse asks me to keep an eye out for a specific participant—a regular who comes in several times a day. She hadn’t been seen yet. Later that night, the woman finally comes in, and she’s beaming. "I went to see my daughter today! And I didn’t use all day! F—, soon I’m gonna get off this s—!" We break out in applause and cheers, celebrating her triumphs with her—as she mixes her drugs to take in a few minutes in our facility. Other participants in the room are excited as well; two of them come over to hug her.

Another regular later chats with me in the treatment room as I dress his abscess, trying not to cringe away from the overwhelming odour he emanates. "It would have been my anniversary with my wife today, if she hadn’t gone missing. We’ve both been down and out, but she took care of me out here. Now, I got nobody to talk to. This is the first human touch I’ve had today." I look up, startled. I am wearing gloves, holding my breath, cleaning his sores with a 10-inch sterile Q-tip. Even this, my deficient attempt to heal, is taken as love by a man desperate for human connection. I am ashamed.

I finish dressing the wound, clean up, remove my gloves and give him a hug. I hop up on the treatment bench next to him and we sit together and talk for another 15 minutes: about life, love and faith. He says goodbye, and then asks for a referral to an exit program. I give it to him. He knows the referral is merely one point along our journey together, and that I will listen to his story whether he goes to the program or not. As a Christian, I know that his life is part of God’s real story of redemption. InSite is one of the few places where I get to hear it openly spoken, with trust, without judgment.

Having witnessed three generations of the same family shoot up in the same room, I have come to understand that injection drug use is far from being the result of one bad decision. It is the outcome of a complex of systemic, familial and individual influences that must not be oversimplified to "It’s their fault. They should just quit and get a job."

Update: My friend Scott has a great write up of his experiences here.

A look at Riversdale: Introduction

Far too long ago, I planned to write a series of articles on life in the inner city for this blog.  I wrote a background piece to why I care about the topic and I had hoped to publish an article every week or so.  What I found is that the more I wrote, the more questions I had and the more interconnected the problems and solutions are.  In the last couple of months I have read thousands of pages on urban planning, poverty, crime, gangs, drugs, and prostitution.  I sat in on the Salvation Army’s John School and found myself weeping at the stories of lost girls, women being beaten, and angered by the impact of johns stalking a neighbourhood (it’s happening in my neighbourhood as well right now).  As odd as it has been, I have also found myself walking through Riversdale, talking to guys I know down there, hearing stories, and just chilling out down there.

On top of that, Dave Hutton’s article on the concentration of services in Riversdale a couple of months ago has been the ice breaker in every meeting I have had over since it came out.  Both City Councillor Pat Lorje and Riversdale Business Improvement District’s Randy Pshebylo where effective in bringing up the topic in a variety of interviews over a couple of weeks and in my circles, it generated a lot of debate and discussion.   Shortly after the article came out, I had a chance to talk with Councillor Lorje and Mr. Pshebylo at The Salvation Army Community Services open house we met with them at work later on to talk more about the topic.  After talking with both of them, Councillor Lorje gave me a couple of more articles and papers on homelessness and urban planning which gave me more to read.  I spent a couple of weeks at the cabin reading them and other material and had to endure being called a nerd more than once when people saw what I was reading on holidays (when I said that I was reading Bob Woodward’s The War Within as well, their viewpoint wasn’t changed).  I have a lot of respect for both Lorje and Pshebylo.  Both of them have contributed a lot to the life of the city and they brought up a lot of good points.  Yet at the same time their solution seemed incomplete to me and I wanted to spend some time thinking it over.  Those thoughts, ideas, rebuttals and replies started to get written down and will be posted here in pieces over the next month.  If you miss something, don’t worry, I will be linking to each piece at the end of each post. 

As to where to start, I thought I would offer my initial thoughts on part of Dave Hutton’s Star Phoenix article.

I still remember the morning the article came out.  We get a couple of Star Phoenix’s delivered each morning (by the world’s bravest paper kid) to work and I normally wander in, check out the log books, chat with staff, and read the paper.  Since we have more staff right now than normal with the training of staff for the much delayed Mumford House, I now read The Star Phoenix online in my office over coffee.  By the time I got to my office my e-mail and voice mail were flooded with people asking me “did you see what Pat Lorje said about you?”  Well know I hadn’t and I went online to see what was up.  The entire article is worth a read.  You can read the article here.

The overabundance of support agencies for poor and homeless people concentrated in Riversdale needs to be addressed in what the city councillor for the area is calling "solution by dilution."

"The simple fact is that the status quo is not working," Coun. Pat Lorje said in an interview. "We need to think about alternative models."

Many of the city’s social supports for homeless people are concentrated in the area, trapping people in negative lifestyles, Lorje said. The result is the creation of a society unto itself, from which it is harder to pull people out because they are exposed to more intense levels of the forces that cause, and keep, people homeless and addicted to drugs and alcohol, Lorje said.

Consolidating existing services and spreading support agencies throughout the city would help, she said.

"The issue is not just poverty," she said. "It’s the concentration of poverty."

Lorje is backed on the issue by the executive director of the Riversdale Business Improvement District. Randy Pshebylo says the burden of helping the homeless and drug-addicted needs to be shared by other neighbourhoods.

The concentration of any one thing — be it bars and pubs, pawn shops, retail stores, restaurants or social organizations — diminishes the strength of any neighbourhood, Pshebylo said.

Missions and soup kitchens are better suited for the avenues adjacent to 20th Street than the main business strip, he said.

"We just want an equitable neighbourhood," he said. "You don’t put your sink in your living room."

Lorje isn’t calling for a moratorium or freeze on social organizations in Riversdale — a step taken by other impoverished neighbourhoods in Canada and the U.S. — but said there needs to be less overlap.

"I would encourage organizations and church groups to start consolidating their services," she said. "It’s not a competition to see who can do it best, it should be co-operation to see who can do it most effectively to get people off the street."

The part of the article that jumped out me was this.

Many of the city’s social supports for homeless people are concentrated in the area, trapping people in negative lifestyles, Lorje said. The result is the creation of a society unto itself, from which it is harder to pull people out because they are exposed to more intense levels of the forces that cause, and keep, people homeless and addicted to drugs and alcohol, Lorje said.

It’s a frustrating quote to read.  We fight against the culture of drugs and alcohol everyday at the Centre.  We do everything we can to help people move on from the lifestyle.  Since the housing boom and the rental increases took hold and our length of stays increased, we have done a lot to help guys get “unstuck”.  We have added two full time caseworkers to help clients who don’t have a plan to find safe and sustainable housing to get one.  Than we provide follow up as they overcome their barriers to housing.  Once they are ready to move out, we provide them with household goods, help them set up an apartment, and provide support when they are out (if needed).

In addition to that, we have always taken a tough stand against drugs and alcohol abuse and it has never been popular with clients, parents, other social agencies.  As a staff, we pay a cost for that stand.  I have had the lug nuts loosened on my Honda Accord, windows smashed, clients who have tracked down where I lived and had my son’s life threatened.   Having my own life threatened is so routine that my response is often flippant.   We had to taxi a staff member to and from work for months because of the severity of the threat against him (and honestly, he was just sitting beside me having a cup of cold coffee when the guy threatened him).  We pay a lot of money for evidentiary breathalyzers (and the literally thousands of tips we go through a year), we don’t take in guys who are still actively using and have banned known drug dealers (who have moved down the street from a Narcotics Anonymous meeting where they pick off people who are heading to the meeting), we have drug tests to help us determine drug use and the best course of action for our clients, as well as non stop bag checks, room inspections, and even the occasional police dog wandering through and yet it seems like there is a bigger problem with drug use then there was ever before and not just in Riversdale (see my post on this from December 2009).

So yes, Councillor Lorje is totally right, there is a culture of drug and alcohol abuse.  The question I have is whether or not the homeless shelters and social agencies contributing to it.  That’s an incredibly hard question to answer.  The more I read about the problem, the more I was convinced that the problems in Riversdale (and other urban cores) were being over simplified.  Yes there is a problem with the concentration of services in Riversdale but it’s a lot bigger than that.  As I have been mulling the issues that affect Riversdale and other urban areas, the more I kept thinking of Thomas Homer-Dixon’s book The Ingenuity Gap.  In it Homer-Dixon writes that the world’s problems are escaping our abilities to manage them.  As problems grow in complexity, so the solutions.  When I was a kid, there was always problems in Riversdale.  You could always see a drunk or two outside the Albany or the Barry Hotels.  Now there is the booze, the moonshine, the drugs, the theft, the prostitution, the gangs, the guys with untreated mental health issues, those struggling with all of it and it is concentrated in one part of the city.  The question is why and what do can do you about it?

So the plan is to first look at the problem and it’s interconnectedness.  After that, I’ll head back to what I see are the solutions.  Tomorrow we take a longer look of concentration of services in Riversdale and try to figure out their role in all of this.

HIV and Homelessness

From the Star Phoenix about a guy I know.

When people find out he’s HIV positive, Dan says it’s almost like it’s not a surprise to them anymore.

The odd person might jump away when he tells them, but most don’t react at all, "because so many people have it," he said.

Over a cup of coffee with The StarPhoenix this week, Dan — who requested his real name not be used — shared a story that’s sadly not very different from many others in Saskatoon who have HIV, or who are at risk of contracting HIV.

As a toddler, he was sexually abused by his stepfather. At the age of four, he was adopted out from his First Nations family. He had his first drink when he was about 11, and started drinking heavily at the age of 13. After falling in love with a co-worker at his sales job in Saskatoon and being offered the choice of breaking up with her or finding a new job, he and his fiancee left for Edmonton, where they started using drugs. Out of money, they returned home to his parents in northern Saskatchewan. One night 12 years ago, they got drunk and went for a drive. When Dan woke from a coma after the crash, his brother told him his fiancee was dead.

A couple of years after that, Dan started using injection drugs.

He fell in love again. He and his common-law wife, a fellow injection-drug user, both contracted HIV about three years ago. They thought it was from a contaminated needle, but they didn’t know for sure.

His wife died three months ago. "I just completely gave up after that," Dan said. He is currently homeless.

Dan, 33, still uses injection drugs, whatever he can get his hands on — coke and morphine are the easiest to find. He doesn’t like to look at himself in the mirror.

"I don’t like the lifestyle. I don’t like any of it. I don’t like going out to find money and then wasting it," he said.

He dismisses many of the hardships he’s faced as excuses, saying he "chose the lifestyle." But then, ultimately, the drugs take over: "You do stupid things to get them, hurt people you would never hurt — friends, family. The way I was raised is the exact opposite way of the way I’m living."

His adoptive parents tried to keep him away from drugs and alcohol, he said; later in life, his dealer warned him repeatedly to stay away from injection drugs, telling him once he went down that road there would be no turning back. "I didn’t listen," he said.

Dan shares his HIV-positive status with people who ask, especially people he does drugs with.

"People share rigs, people share needles all the time, you don’t really realize how many people do. If there isn’t one there that’s clean, or a new one, you’ll do anything to get what you need."

The biggest emotion he feels is fear — fear that this is the way it will be for him for the rest of his life, fear that his stepdaughters will end up drawn into a life like his.

Staying with family isn’t an option for Dan anymore, he said; he’s hurt them too much.

His birth mother and one of his birth sisters have managed to go clean, which he attributes to strong willpower on their part. His sister used to help others "jug," by injecting drugs directly into the jugular vein in the neck. One man who she regularly injected normally wouldn’t show any affection for his partner, but every time before he got injected, he would kiss his wife. One day, Dan’s sister asked the man why. "Because it might be the last time," the man said.

Dan’s sister laid down the needle and decided to go clean then and there, Dan said.

But he doesn’t have much hope he could do the same thing.