Harm reduction saves society dollars

I believe that everyone in our society is worthy of our compassion and support wherever they may be in their life struggle.

Re: “Health dollars going to crack pipes and syringes” (Citizen, July 20)

Dr. Mathews’s view that millions of health care dollars are going down the drain in the form of harm reduction support for people who are addicted to illicit drugs and substances is misguided to say the least.

Although I agree with Dr. Mathews that funding pharmaceutical corporations in relation to this issue is dubious at best, I would respectfully argue that the majority of harm reduction dollars save society many dollars in the long run and help to position people with drug dependency issues in a place where they may obtain the medical, psychological, social, and spiritual help they need to enter a greater depth of recovery.

The cost of not providing harm reduction can be exemplified by an unsupported person who is addicted, uses a dirty needle and ends up in the emergency department with a resulting infected wound. The wound is cleaned and oral antibiotics prescribed. The person who is addicted is homeless, soon loses the antibiotics and weeks later ends up in emergency department with an infected arm, gets IV antibiotics but does not return for further treatment. Weeks later the patient returns to emergency with a septic infection and the resulting treatment includes a heart valve transplant. This scenario actually occurred years ago in Victoria and cost to the health care system was in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, expenditures which could have been completely avoided with easy access to a clean needle.

The above case is simplified but, I think, it highlights the benefit society gains by proactively treating drug and alcohol as the disease it is, which needs to be treated medically and socially rather than criminally. Part of the problem for people with addiction issues is a privileged attitude that creates a misperception of “us against them” that people with drug/alcohol dependency don’t deserve. As well, statistics show more often than not, mental illness goes hand in hand with addiction issues, so people with mental health and addiction issues are stigmatized as well as discriminated against on various levels as it is.

As for Dr. Mathews’s statement that people with drug/alcohol dependency issues have nothing to contribute to our society, I would argue that prior to my 24 years of sobriety I am presently enjoying, I, as a drug and alcohol dependent person with mental health issues, had a family, a job, and paid my taxes for much of my interesting but somewhat misguided journey at that time. At the lowest point in my life, I was fortunate enough to obtain the help I needed to get sober and begin my journey in recovery. I believe that everyone in our society is worthy of our compassion and support wherever they may be in their life struggle.


Ted Gamble

Cowichan Lake