An Interview with Stephanie Lake, Volunteer for CSSDP

published on July 22, 2017 by Scott Douglas Jacobsen in CSSDP

Note: This interview has been edited for clarity, readability, and concision.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: How did you get an interest in Canadian drug policy?

Stephanie Lake: I became interested in Canadian drug policy while I was studying health sciences at the University of Ottawa. I remember writing a paper on supervised injection sites for a sociology of health course, and throughout my literature review, I found myself getting increasingly frustrated at the state of our prohibitive and punitive drug policies which all seemed to be based on ideology rather than evidence. This frustration left me feeling determined to contribute to change in drug policy through health research and advocacy.

Jacobsen: What is your position in the chapter and responsibilities?

Lake: I am currently working with a small group of students to revive CSSDP’s Vancouver chapter. I fell into this role when I came across the CSSDP Vancouver facebook group, and noticed a post from a former CSSDP board member asking if anyone wanted to try and get the chapter going again. I decided to give it a try, and I’m really happy that I did. Right now, since we are a relatively small core group of students (3-4), we all share the responsibility of chairing meetings, organizing events, and growing the chapter. Our chapter is organizing its first event (naloxone training for students and youth in Vancouver). I have also recently joined the national board, where I will be focusing on student outreach and conference planning.

Jacobsen: What is your perspective on the more punitive approaches to drug policy and the harm reduction approaches?

Lake: I think most people know by now that the war on drugs is a failure. Punitive approaches to drug policy just don’t work, and they don’t protect the health and human rights of people who use drugs. Substance use has been around as long as humans have walked the earth, so it is unrealistic to think that we can just abolish such a deeply rooted human behaviour through punitive measures. Instead, we should be supporting the health of people who use drugs through minimizing the potential harms associated with drug use. When we do this, we reduce stigma that is so often linked to drug use, connect people who use drugs to health and social resources, and ultimately protect the health of the entire population.

Jacobsen: What are the consequences on individuals with drug misuse if the punitive issues are employed?

Lake: Since the war on drugs began in the 1970’s the number of individuals in the US who have been incarcerated for drug law violations has gone up more than 10-fold. In other parts of the world, including the Philippines and Vietnam, drug-related offences can even result in the death penalty. These harsh responses to drug use mean that people who use drugs are often pushed underground, where they become disconnected with potentially life-saving health and social supports. Incarceration has been linked to HIV infection (people do use drugs in jails, but they don’t have access to clean needles/pipes because this would require admitting that drugs get into jails), poor HIV treatment access and sub-optimal treatment outcomes, inadequate access to evidence-based addiction treatment (e.g., opioid substitution treatment), etc. Also, once someone goes to jail for drugs, it becomes hard to break the cycle. Many individuals will struggle to find steady employment or decent housing, and risk returning to drug dealing or related illicit activities to support themselves or their families.

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