Harm reduction is a wicked policy says public health expert

In downtown Oshawa, a crisis of public disorder and homelessness is worsening due to ineffective harm reduction policies, as an anonymous expert criticizes the lack of proper evaluation and integration, highlighting the dangerous consequences and community risks of current approaches.

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Nestled in the downtown core of Oshawa, Ont. a growing crisis of public disorder and homelessness unfolds as open-air drug use and vagrancy proliferate.

A well-educated woman armed with a PhD in rehabilitation sciences and a post-doctorate in public-health policy joins Rebel News anonymously to discuss the shortfalls of harm reduction and safer supply drug policies.

As someone who has familiarity with grant practices and the peer review process, the guest joins anonymously because, as she says, the topic is polarizing and advocating for a different approach may put her safety and security at risk.

“There’s so much animosity and negativity,” she shares.

"I try to keep an open mind and have the purview that there is no right answer, especially with a wicked policy problem such as this. It’s so intertwined that if I do speak freely because I lean more toward recovery-oriented practices, I would be blacklisted, potentially targeted by advocates who are very much for safe supply or one narrow perspective of harm reduction. It’s safer for me to stay anonymous because I still want to advocate for recovery-oriented services. It’s one or the other when really they need to be integrated."

The self-reporting nature and lack of comprehensive social service evaluations have led to a disastrous fallout of the low-barrier harm reduction interventions being funded primarily through the Liberals' one-billion-dollar drug strategy.

"They don’t take a whole community approach to understanding the impact of those services. They kind of just land in a community, and oftentimes community members don’t have a voice. Even though they lodge complaints or alarms are raised there is no avenue for them to be heard. It’s often shut down and labelled as nimbyism, stigmatizing or discriminatory. Those are hard-stop words so it closes the conversation."

While the idea of wrap-around services that are collaborative and individualized sounds good in theory, “the extent to which they’re integrated is questionable,” she says.

While safe supply was supposed to be a bridge – a component – of said wrap-around services, it’s become more about capitalizing on “low-hanging fruit” instead of actual re-integration and recovery of those with addiction.

“When you piece-meal something like that, it’s not going to be as effective as a [whole approach] model,” says the guest, before describing an individual who has deteriorated into a shell of a person under the guidance of “harm reduction.”

There’s also the issue of what the long-term effects of drug use are on the brain, including the antidote naloxone and craving suppressor suboxone.

While people may recover from their addiction, they may be left with co-morbid cognitive deficits.

From questionable peer-review published by medical journals with low credibility to conflicts of interest by researchers and data tampering by those advocating harm reduction above all else, there is something called a “perverse incentive.” The guest explains this as a way that policy can cause the change it was trying to address.

"When a policy is intended to make a change in a certain direction and it actually causes the unintended consequence of the opposite direction. For example, a lot of social services and harm reduction is funded through demonstrating demand and showing the need for services. Hypothetically if I said we had 75 people come to pick up clean needles and we need more needles so you get funding for additional needles. What you’re doing is promoting the use of needles and getting funding for needles. I’ve always advocated to flip all of those policies inside out, so funding is contingent on how many people were housed or went back to school or went back home. If the dollars were attached to incentives that had a different outcome, we could probably pivot some of the outcomes that we’re seeing.”

Overall, the current policies lack proper evaluation, rendering them futile amid escalating public disorder, chaos and threats to community safety.

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