Tories hold science in contempt

published on January 30, 2010 by Dr. Evan Wood in London Free Press

London Free Press

By Evan Wood

The recent British Columbia Court of Appeal decision that has allowed Vancouver’s supervised injecting facility for illicit drug users, known as Insite, to remain open is a victory for the scientific research, the people who use this health-care facility and all Canadians who are concerned about reducing the harms associated with drugs in our society.

Rigorous, peer-reviewed research studies published in the world’s leading medical journals, including the New England Journal of Medicine, are conclusive: Insite helps reduce publicly discarded needles, HIV transmission and fatal overdose rates, and dramatically improves uptake of addiction treatment.

These findings replicate the experience in Europe, where 65 supervised injecting programs have been initiated as part of a pragmatic approach to couple law enforcement efforts with strategies to improve public disorder and reduce needle-sharing and its associated health concerns.

Unfortunately, all the global scientific research and analysis validating the supervised injection site model have not seemed to sway the federal government.

Early concerns about the Conservative party’s policies under Prime Minister Stephen Harper emerged in the areas of reproductive technology and stem cell research.

More recently, cuts to basic research in the Tories’ stimulus budget and unscientific comments by Gary Goodyear, minister of state for science and technology, on “creationism” versus evolution, prompted an open letter to Harper by more than 2,000 top Canadian scientists decrying “huge steps backward for Canadian science” under the Tories.

Topping the list, however, is the Tories’ handling of the injection facility, which constitutes this government’s most blatant contempt for science.

Among the most egregious examples of the Tories’ manipulation on this file are the Conservatives’ apparent efforts to suppress and cloud research, and their unwillingness to accept scientific findings.

When initially faced with the decision whether to allow Insite to continue to legally operate, then Tory health minister Tony Clement stated that “more research is necessary.”

Ironically, as part of this announcement, he declared a moratorium on injection site research trials and intervened to halt funding to an Insite research grant that had already been externally peer-reviewed and recommended for funding by the Public Health Agency of Canada.

The Conservatives have responded to the immense volume of research on Insite and supervised injections sites by stating that the research has “raised questions” and that there is a “growing academic debate.”

These statements are highly disingenuous. The published research has answered, not raised, many questions. Furthermore, a near unanimous academic consensus has emerged in the mainstream scientific community. For instance, more than 130 prominent Canadian scientists recently published an open letter to Harper, charging that his conduct surrounding Insite was putting ideology before the protection of public health.

The BC Court of Appeal decision has clear implications for the role of science in Canada’s approach to addiction. To address the harms of drugs in all communities across the country, we must move away from the failed U.S.-style drug-policy approaches that ignore the proven limitations of relying solely on law enforcement and towards the models endorsed by the World Health Organization that couple police efforts with prevention, treatment and harm reduction strategies.

Evan Wood is a medical doctor and director of the Urban Health Research Initiative at the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS. More >>

Content reproduced with permission of Sun Media.

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