People have asked me how I feel about the Insite issue. Insite is a clinic in downtown Vancouver that provides a safe environment for junkies to shoot (their own) dope. The Supreme Court of Canada just overruled Harper’s attempt to shut it down. Did they do the right thing? Should we make it easier or harder for junkies to shoot up safely?

Easier is right. When opportunities are present, addicts will take them. And Vancouver is full of heroin. The brains of hungry animals can guide our thinking here. When a starving animal holds any hope of finding food, its brain shifts from a balanced stew of neuromodulators to a dopamine-spiked frenzy. Chemicals like acetylcholine, which usually plays a big part in alertness and action, are shut off at the tap when dopamine takes over. Gouts of dopamine spurt into the ventral striatum, so that all of the animal’s goal-seeking behaviour is directed at one goal only: and that’s food. It’s the same for junkies. When they are in need, there is only one goal anywhere of any value worth pursuing. Need more. Get some. Want it now.

So whether you get a clean needle or a used one just doesn’t occupy much space. Sure, it’s better to be safe, to take no chances, but you’ve taken so many chances in your life, and you’re still here, you’re still in one piece. So one more chance is no big deal. And really, for those minutes and hours between now and the next hit, its importance pales beside the real goal.

I know. I’ve been there. I once found myself in a room with four or five  junkies in downtown Oakland. I was scared. This was the ghetto. I wasn’t even physically addicted at that time. I didn’t know if they were going to include me or knife me, so when one guy offered me the cotton (the leftover heroin at the bottom of the spoon), I said I’d take it.  And I could see that the guy’s eyes were yellow–a common symptom of hepatitis. That’s what kills me when I look back on it. Yet I did it anyway. I was young and stupid. I’d like to think that, a year or two later, I wouldn’t have taken such a chance. But that would depend on how badly I wanted it.

If you can make it so that no heroin is available in Vancouver or its surrounds, then do it Mr. Harper. Otherwise, the Supreme Court did the right thing.

4 thoughts on “Insiteful

  1. Dave October 17, 2011 at 6:27 am #

    You are right Marc. I just finished watching the two part series on TVO about Morphine. They featured the Insite clinic. Also, the show went to Portugal where drugs have been decriminalized in the sense that they don’t have a war on drugs per se.

  2. Marc October 18, 2011 at 3:35 am #

    The bottom line is that increasing addicts’ suffering will NOT help them stop. That’s such a dumb idea. Also, I hope the neural story about animals and hunger casts some light on the subject. It’s not an analogy, by the way. The changes in the brain brought about by starvation or drug withdrawal are very much the same!

    Thanks for your comment.

  3. Mike Johnson October 25, 2011 at 6:53 pm #

    The politicians in Vancouver have developed a system that is wide open for dope. All of British Columbia is so saturated suppliers compete on purity as well as price.

    BC is a major conduit for the trade in human beings, narcotics, and dirty money and has been for well over 100 years.

    The trade was simply passed from the rich to black marketers when the dope was made illegal. They provide protection for the trade.

    No chance of getting control of this by any means. People are being completely destroyed here by the tens of thousands…. unlimited distribution of substances… total social corruption.

    In the early decades of the past century parents raised a great disturbance as their children were turned into junkie prostitutes – now scarcely a peep is heard.

    With single payer health insurance all these stupefying costs are imposed on the same government that controls the trade hence this effort to stifle these costs by providing safer injections. It would be better to station paramedics on every street corner shooting up pharma grade smack and even cheaper.

    Death Camp without fences = Downtown Vancouver

  4. Carolyn February 3, 2012 at 9:44 pm #

    Hi Marc

    If we look at those addicted to drugs or alcohol as human beings who deserve to be treated with the same respect and dignity as the rest of us, there would never be a question as to whether or not to offer a safe injection site. I think it is most important to address the underlying problems that lead to addictions (for instance low self esteem). This will allow us to help the addicts to feel better and to access the help that they need before their problems become more extensive . Thus our mental health systems and our penal systems would not be nearly as over crowded. Those who need it will get help within a timely fashion.

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