After years of pleading, debating and waiting, the Quebec Ministry of Health officially released the funds to open three supervised injection sites (SIS), as well as one mobile unit in Montreal. Two such sites are already in function in Vancouver, but it will be a first for Quebec.

Quebec will release $12 million over three years to three community centres in Montreal: Spectre de rue, CACTUS and Dopamine. One part of the money will help the centres prepare the locations and fulfill all the requirements to be granted an exemption from the law on drugs by the federal government.

The other part will be used for the launching and running of the sites’ operations. One mobile unit will also be providing services in a few boroughs. No official date is set for the opening of the facilities, but Le Devoir mentioned that it could be as soon as March 2017.

The project is far from new. In fact, six years have already passed since the Director of Public Health started pushing for the opening of SIS in Montreal. In June 2015, Mayor Coderre had announced his plan to go forward with the facilities, with or without Ottawa’s approval.

At the time, the provincial government decided to lend a hand. According to Lucie Charlebois, Quebec’s Minister of Health and Healthy Living, “we are now at the final step” of the process.

She told Radio-Canada that the work on installations and the hiring of medical staff was already on track. “That means we’re advancing quickly.” She commented that she discussed the matter with her federal counterpart, Jane Philpott: “she is very receptive towards it, but we have to fit certain criteria, that is clear.” Charlebois stated that she believes that getting the federal approval will be a formality.

Sandhia Vadlamudy, the director of CACTUS, told FTB by phone that this formality requires a lot of paperwork, but no problematic modifications.

Last year, CACTUS distributed 610 000 clean syringes in an effort to prevent transmission of infection, which is around 65% of distributed materials on the island, including those distributed in CLSCs and drugstores. With their supervised injection site finally going forward, they will be able to “add one more tool to prevent infections and overdoses.”

Some have argued that the government would do better to focus on treating drug addiction or even on cracking down on drug crime instead of improving the conditions of drug use. Vadlamudy doesn’t think that promoting abstinence and prohibition is sufficient.

“This approach is more based on pragmatism; which is to say drugs exist and people take them.”

She argued that SIS are beneficial for more than just drug users, highlighting that, within four years of operation,  SIS start saving money for the healthcare system by preventing overdoses and health deterioration in users.

It will also help reduce the number of intoxicated people and of used needles left on the streets “and thus improve the quality of life of everyone in the community.”

Slowly breaking the taboo

According to the Director of Public Health, there are 4000 regular users of injectable drugs in Montreal. People who use injectable drugs are 59 times more like to be infected with HIV. An average of 70 people die of drug overdoses every year in Montreal.

In the eyes of many, SIS remain a marginal, controversial option for desperate cases, when they are not a silly progressive scheme. But their growing popularity around the world and the expanding stack of evidence in their favour are now hard to ignore.

The first North American facility, Insite, opened in Vancouver 13 years ago.  In 2008, federal health minister Tony Clement called it “a failure of public policy, indeed of ethical judgment.” Just last spring, Toronto’s Police Association expressed firm opposition to the idea of opening SIS in their city.

“Insite is not a model we want to see replicated,” association president Mike McCormack said, fearing that SIS would attract crime and loitering and thinks that government money would be better spent on treatment options.

Insite handles 600 injections daily. Not one person has died of an overdose within its walls. According to the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, there was a 35% decrease in overdose deaths in the area of forty blocks around the site. BC’s HIV and Hepatitis C infection rate went from the highest of the country to one of the lowest. More than thirty peer-reviewed papers were published about Insite’s beneficial impact.

Supervised rooms for drug consumption started popping up as a response to AIDS epidemics and the spike in overdoses in the eighties and nineties. There are now about 90 of them around the world.

The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction recently published a study in which they found overall that those sites increased safe and hygienic drug use and reduced risky behaviours. They also found that, contrary to Toronto’s Police Association’s concerns, there was no evidence that those sites increased drug related crime and violence in their vicinity.

*Featured image by Todd Huffman, WikiMedia Commons

Last Friday in a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled unanimously that prohibiting Insite, the safe injection clinic, to operate under an exemption from drug laws would be a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Written by Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, the ruling said “Insite saves lives. Its benefits have been proven. There has been no discernible negative impact on the public safety and health objectives of Canada during its eight years of operation.” The SCOC ordered the federal minister of health  Leona Aglukkaq to grant an immediate exemption to allow Insite to operate.

The court said similarly that if Insite wasn’t allowed to operate, it would prevent injection drug users from accessing the health services offered at the facility, threatening their health and their lives. The bottom line: to deny access to Insite is to deny access to health care. The ruling paves the way for more safe injection clinics to open up across the country without the fear of clients and staff being arrested.

The ruling comes as a slap in the face to Prime Minister Harper and his anti-crime agenda. The Conservative government has been trying to shut the site down since it came to power five years ago. Aglukkaq said Friday that the government’s investments are targeted at prevention and treatment, but that fact runs contrary to the Conservatives’ crime bill that would introduce tough new laws for simple possession.

If Harper and his Conservative Government were actually committed to prevention and treatment they should have supported clinics like Insite from the get go. In Insite’s surrounding neighborhoods during its eight years of operation, addicts that have started seeking treatment have gone up 30%. It is far more altruistic and cost effective to treat those trying to quit than to lock them up and throw away the key.

Regardless of what people’s opinion might be on the treatment of drug addicts, the Supreme Court made it quite clear that the main issue was safety. In Canada, healthcare is considered by most to be a basic human right; therefore the government (provincial and federal) should be compelled not only to support safe injection clinics, but to help fund them as well.

Inside Insite

Over the past eight years, Insite nurses have overseen more than a million safe injections resulting in 1400 overdoses, but not one user has died as a result. What cost can you put on fourteen hundred lives? According to Health Canada, Insite costs about $3 million annually to operate or $14.00 per visit. 80% of visitors go for safe injections and 20% for counseling.

If you think $3 million dollars a year is excessive, consider this; according to the US National Library of Medicine, if Insite were closed, the annual number of incident HIV infections among Vancouver IDUs would be expected to increase from 179.3 to 262.8. These 83.5 preventable infections are associated with $17.6 million in life-time HIV-related medical care costs, greatly exceeding Insite’s operating costs.

To summarize; safe injection sites save lives, saves money, reduces the spread of disease, keeps the streets cleaner and helps those who are trying to quit. How could any God fearing conservative be opposed to such an economic and ethical cause as Insite? I’m at least pleased to see that the Supreme Court of Canada can still put logic in front of ideology, unlike some of our politicians.

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According to a new report released last Tuesday, industry regulators have known for years that Roundup, the world’s best-selling herbicide produced by the U.S. based Monsanto Corporation, causes birth defects. The report, “Roundup and birth defects: Is the public being kept in the dark?”, says that industry regulators have known since as early as 1980 that glyphosate, the chemical on which Roundup and other herbicides are based, can cause birth defects in laboratory animals. Why am I not surprised?

Monsanto, the Missouri-based multinational agricultural biotechnology corporation, has been known more for its harmful products than its innovations. It’s also been known for its pollution in regards to the disposal of PCBs. In Anniston, Alabama, a Monsanto factory knowingly discharged both mercury and PCB-laden waste into local creeks for over 40 years and also buried millions of pounds of PCB in open-pit landfills.

Monsanto has also been known for its aggressive litigation, suing dozens of family farmers for patent infringement in connection with its genetically engineered seeds. Speaking of seeds, Monsanto currently produces the controversial “terminator” seed. It produces plants that have sterile seeds so they do not flower or grow fruit after the initial planting, forcing the farmers to repurchase the seeds every season.

The list of harmful products has grown over the decades since the chemical giant began manufacturing DDT in 1944. As Monsanto transitioned into the Bio-Tech giant that we all know today, they continue to place their greed for profit over public health and the environment. Here is a short list of some of those products:

  • DDT Along with companies in 15 other countries, Monsanto began manufacturing the insecticide DDT in the 1940’s. It was used mainly to combat Typhus and Malaria and was in large part successful. However, DDT is toxic to a wide range of animals in addition to insects, especially marine animals, and is responsible for birth defects in humans. Studies show DDT to lower sperm count in men, cause early pregnancy loss in women, and lead to improper thyroid functions, Parkinson’s and asthma among other illnesses. It is also a persistent organic pollutant, staying in the environment long after its use. DDT was banned in many countries in the 1970’s, but is still manufactured in India to this day.
  • Agent Orange During the Vietnam War, 20 million gallons of the defoliant code named “Agent Orange” was sprayed on Vietnam. Manufactured by Monsanto Corporation and Dow Chemical, it is said to have killed or maimed 400,000 people while another 500,000 children were born with birth defects. Agent Orange was discovered to contain an extremely toxic dioxin compound after the U.S. military sprayed over 20% of Vietnam forests over the course of the war. Dioxins from Agent Orange have persisted in the Vietnamese environment since the war and, while exposed American soldiers were compensated by Monsanto and Dow Chemical, the people of Vietnam have not received a dime or an apology.

    A by-product of Agent Orange
  • rBGH recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone is an artificial growth hormone designed to raise the production of a cow’s milk. Monsanto was the first corporation to develop the technology, and branded it as “Posilac”, at a time when milk was already overproduced. The United States is the only First World country to permit people to drink rBGH-produced milk. Posilac was banned from use in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and all European Union countries. Although the World Health Organization and other institutions have deemed the milk safe to drink, the concern lies more with the animals themselves. Studies have shown an average increase in milk output to about 15%, but a nearly 25% increase in the risk of mastitis, a 40% reduction in fertility, and a 55% increased risk of developing clinical signs of lameness.
  • Aspartame Aspartame is an artificial sweetener found in most diet foods and beverages. It is used in more than 90 countries worldwide and is commonly known to be safe to consume. However, some scientists say that it is by far the most dangerous substance on the market that is added to foods. It is difficult to ascertain the truth about the health concerns surrounding aspartame, as the internet and various media outlets all have differing opinions. Debating the harm of aspartame can be a lot like debating religion; existent, inconclusive, non-existent. Some say it’s perfectly healthy, others say it can kill you in the long term. I for one would rather be safe than sorry – after all, it does very little, if anything, to help you lose weight.

So given Monsanto’s product history, it’s no surprise to see that Roundup may cause birth defects. According to the report, the European Commission has known that glyphosate causes malformations at least since 2002, but the information was not made public. Glyphosate was supposed to be up for review next year, but now it seems it won’t be reviewed until 2015. The report also said that the chemical will not be reviewed under more stringent, up-to-date standards until 2030; a little late for a potentially hazardous substance.

This evil corporation has highly active political lobbying practices and has spent millions every year to ensure their aims are met. Monsanto has had Judges (Clarence Thomas), FDA officials (Michael R. Taylor, Dr. Michael A. Friedman) and EPA officials (Linda J. Fisher) all working for them at some point – even Former Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld made a cool twelve million thanks to Monsanto.

Thanks in part to the fourteenth amendment to the U.S. constitution, a corporation is seen as a living, breathing human being under American law; a human being that can be sued (which it has been repeatedly), but not locked up. How much damage can a corporation do to the earth, to animals, to other human beings before their corporate charter is revoked?

One of the biggest problems I have in regards to biotech and chemical companies is that it’s hard to determine exactly what products contain their chemicals and ingredients. It makes it very hard for me or anyone else to boycott a company that does not deserve our money. In my opinion, the chemical ingredients in food and beverages should be identified with the company who produces them. I’m sure there are more things to avoid than diet soft drinks.

You can follow Quiet Mike on Twitter at  @MWeishar

On June 17, 1971 United States President Richard Nixon officially launched the “War on Drugs“. Forty years later the American government alone has spent between one and two and a half trillion dollars to combat drug users, dealers and manufacturers. Millions of otherwise innocent people have been incarcerated as a result.

Last week, The Global Commission on Drug Policy declared the global “war on drugs” to be a failure. The high-level international 19-member commission includes former heads of state, a business mogul and the current prime minister of Greece.  In their report they called for a new approach to the current strategy of reducing drug abuse by strictly criminalizing drugs and incarcerating users.

By U.N. estimates, there are approximately 250 million users worldwide of drugs that are currently deemed illegal, with less than ten percent classified as “dependent”. There are also millions involved in the cultivation, production and distribution of drugs. To put this in perspective, it costs taxpayers about 50K to imprison someone for a year. If we were to lock up just the world’s drug users (let alone the pushers and cultivators) it would cost the global taxpayer 12.5 trillion dollars… annually.

So instead of a drug policy where victory means a cost of a little less than the entire American national debt (not to mention the detention of millions of non-violent, otherwise innocent civilians), The Global Commission on Drug Policy recommended the following measures:

  1. End criminalization of drug users “who do no harm to others” as well as low level farmers, couriers and “petty sellers”
  2. Experiment with legal regulation of drugs “to undermine the power of organized crime and safeguard the health and security of their citizens”
  3. Offer health and treatment services such as supervised use facilities and syringe access rather than “abusive practices carried out in the name of treatment such as forced detention”
  4. Abandon the ‘just say no’ approach to education in favor of “efforts grounded in credible information and prevention programs that focus on social skills and peer influences”
  5. Focus law enforcement efforts “not on reducing drug markets per se but rather on reducing their harms”

Some countries are already leading the pack in regards to drug law reform and the commission report said that decriminalization initiatives had not been complemented by a substantial spike in drug use in countries such as Australia, Portugal and the Netherlands.

Unfortunately on the other side of globe in North America, the Global Commission on Drug Policy’s recommendations have fallen on deaf ears or at least the ears of the politicians in power. With the election of the Conservative government last month in Canada, Prime Minister Stephen Harper is intent on going in the complete opposite direction.

Obama, Calderon & Harper are all for the war on drugs

His tough on crime bills that are soon to be passed in the House of Commons will introduce mandatory minimum sentences and will result in more time served for drug offenders. Harper has also tried for years to close Insight, The Vancouver safe injection site. Insight offers the health and treatment services that the commission said should be offered worldwide.

Meanwhile the United States and Mexico were quick to reject the high-profile report. In separate statements, the White House stated that the war on drugs was being won and that drug use has been cut in half since the 1970s (which I attribute to the change in our culture assuming their numbers are even accurate). I presume these are the same people who’ll tell you the US won the war in Vietnam.

The Mexican Government also indicated that they would not back away from current strategies in the war on drugs, which in Mexico has resulted in more than 38 000 deaths in 4 1/2 years and is backed by more than $1 billion in US aid under the Merida Initiative.

There has never been a louder voice for drug reform since we first began the prohibition of drugs more than a hundred years ago. Hopefully this report doesn’t get lost on the rest of the world. If just a few countries adopt these bold initiatives, I’m almost certain that these winds of change will spread to other parts of the world.

As for North America, nothing short of dissent and mass protests will do, even then it has become apparent in my lifetime that our politicians refuse to learn from past mistakes. We as always are the ones who must show them the error of their ways, or at least we have to try…

The 19-member commission included former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, the former presidents of Mexico, Brazil and Colombia, writers Carlos Fuentes and Mario Vargas Llosa and British business mogul Richard Branson.

You can follow Quiet Mike on Twitter at @MWeishar

As it pertains to war, whenever the United States says jump, other countries always seem to say how high.   No, I’m not referring to Iraq.   I’m not even speaking of Afghanistan which America now sees (going on nine years) as their longest ongoing conflict in their country’s history; in fact it’s not by a long shot.

In 1971 Richard Nixon was the first president to declare war on drugs.   Nixon’s main goal at the time was to stop the flow of drugs coming into the U.S. through Mexico.   The effort grinded traffic at the border to a virtual halt and as a result lasted for only 20 days. That was the beginning.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon

In the decades since, the United States and various partners have spent untold billions on law enforcement, incarceration and border patrolling all in the name of prohibition.   In the 1980s, the U.S. took it a step further by using “the war on drugs” as mere propaganda to justify Ronald Reagan’s paramilitary operations under the guise of a righteous cause, mainly fighting leftist insurgencies in central America, namely Columbia & Nicaragua.   The end result was the death of tens of thousands.

Over the last ten years the war on drugs has not gotten any better, especially in Mexico.   On December 11th 2006, the newly elected president of Mexico, Felipe Calderón, promised to crack down on the dozen or more drug cartels running the Mexican drug trade and sent sixty-five hundred federal troops to Michoacán.   Over the next few years the number of troops involved has multiplied to roughly forty-five thousand.

Calderón’s efforts have paid off to a degree despite all the inside corruption.   The Mexican army has severely cut the ability of the cartels to move its drugs into the United States and Canada.   The army and federal police have also arrested or killed several high profile cartel kingpins.

Unfortunately, the decrease in trafficking has led to skyrocketing prices for cocaine and other drugs.   Cocaine prices in some areas have jumped as much as forty percent making gang territory that much more valuable, valuable enough to murder and die for, which is why we are now seeing an upsurge in violence in some areas of Canada and the United States.

Mexican Drug Seizure

The total chaotic violence we are now seeing in Mexico is due to a huge power vacuum created by the arrests and killings of cartel leaders by the Mexican army and police. So chaotic in fact that it makes Iraq and Afghanistan look like a family picnic.   Since Calderón’s crackdown, an estimated 22 000 people have died in less than four years, many of them innocent women and children caught in the crossfire.

In 2008, the American congress passed the Mérida Initiative to help Felipe Calderón and certain Central American countries combat drug trafficking.   They were given a billion and half dollars over three years on top of what they were getting already and naturally the violence since has only increased.

The cartels in Mexico are better armed and organized now than at any time in history, employing new weaponry and tactics.   In fact, the first car bomb of the conflict was used as recently as this past weekend.

While the United States provides money to Mexico to clean-up trafficking drugs into the U.S., 90% of the weapons used to fight the bloody turf war in Mexico are smuggled in from the U.S., a vicious circle indeed.   These armaments include military grade assault rifles, hand grenades and grenade launchers (there has even been a submarine used to smuggle cocaine).

Arms Bust in Mexico

Most of these weapons coming from inside the United States are untraceable due to the lack of a state or national gun registry as well as the fact that there are seventy-two thousand gun stores in the country.   Virtually all cartel or gang related murders in Mexico are going unsolved.

Former presidents of Brazil, Colombia and Mexico have all said that the U.S. led war on drugs is pushing Latin America into a downward spiral and they have recommended to Barack Obama new policies such as decriminalization of marijuana and to treat drug use as a public health problem and not as a security problem.

Canada’s Stephen Harper unfortunately does not feel the same way.   In his four years in office he has thrown out the liberal plan to decriminalize marijuana, he has tried to introduce mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders and he has tried repeatedly to close down the only safe injection site in Vancouver.   Like Felipe Calderón, he’s just another partner.