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The Too Often Forgotten – Addictions, Drugs and Mental Health

Every day from February 21st -28th, I am going to talk about a different Crime Issue that has an impact in our community. I know that people in Brant are concerned about their safety and so are the NDP.

The issues I am addressing in this last article are having a devastating impact on this community. As a clinical social worker in Brantford, I deal with the victims of drugs, addiction, and abuse daily, and I have seen the damage this causes in our community.

According to the Canadian Centre for Substance Abuse, illicit drug use costs Canadian society an estimated $8.2 billion a year.1 Sixty per cent of those users fall between the ages of 15-24, and in some high-risk communities, kids as young as 11 are trying illicit drugs.

Those disturbing statistics show the true reasons why we need a smarter and more effective strategy for treating drug-related offences, as well as issues surrounding addictions. Serious drug use and abuse is more and more becoming an issue with the youth of our community, and we need to focus our efforts on making sure that kids don’t fall victim to drugs. In my first article, I talked about the current government wanting to strip funding from effective anti-gang programming. We need to re-invest in programs that keep our kids from criminal activity, not eliminate the funding and the opportunities for redirection. We have to have effective programs in place that make sure our kids know the dangers of drugs and addiction at a young age.

National Addictions Awareness Week was a great project to be involved in this year for this very reason.  It’s a first step that I believe can lead to quite a path if it continues to be supported by the community.  The sheer numbers of people who came out for events was astounding.  This problem is big in Brantford, Brant, Six Nations and New Credit and the stories of addicts and their families are often gut-wrenching.  Falling in with the wrong crowd, leaning towards drugs to cope with physical, mental or sexual trauma and the tales of what is lost from years of drug abuse is quite a reality check for those who are unfamiliar with the subject.  

Part of our strategy for creating a tough and effective justice system here in Canada includes our approach to treating addictions. With treatment programming in place that all Canadians can access, we can rehabilitate those who are ready and help create positive stories of achievement and hope.

Having to wait 9 months for 28 day treatment (if you are lucky) isn’t helping.  Being shipped across the province isn’t as helpful as being able to be served in your community with your family by your side.  We need more beds and not just for adult addictions but for youth.  Youth are often caught between the programs for children and the programs for adults.

Our current justice system places too much emphasis on punishing drug users and drug offenders, and not enough on addiction treatment. Yes, we do believe that criminals should be punished for breaking the law. However we must continue to be sensitive to the fact that drugs can quickly become addictive, and we need to do what we can to support the rehabilitation and reintegration of these people in our community. 

I have had occasion to talk with Howard Sapers office during some planning for the last Brantford/Brant Mental Health Week.  Mr. Sapers is the Federal Ombudsman for prisons.  He highlights often how we are criminalizing mental health issues and incarcerating mental health clients instead of treating them.  It’s an expensive and backwards solution.  We put a hold on building addiction treatment centres and cut funding to mental health services and facilities but build private prisons for unreported crime when the crime rate has been falling.

“Criminalizing and then warehousing the mentally ill burdens our justice system and does nothing to improve public safety,” Sapers wrote in a very well researched annual report.2

We can’t let prisons become the dumping ground for the mentally ill.  It’s immoral, it’s ineffective, it’s dangerous and it’s bloody expensive.

Mental health and addictions services are not just less expensive to run but also save us money because they prevent future issues from occurring.  Get an addict clean and working and s/he isn’t breaking into your house to steal your jewellery.  S/he isn’t costing the taxpayer in prison costs either.  You do better and so does s/he.  We all win with safer communities and less victims of crime and less victims of the system.

We need to continue to work on a system of justice in this country that is both tough and effective on crime. That means punishing those who commit crime, working to prevent crime, rehabilitating those addicted to the perils of crime, and protecting those people who fall victim to crime.   I hope you have found this series of articles enlightening.  I have enjoyed hearing your comments on these issues and look forward to more discussion on it.

Crime isn’t going away but we have a responsibility to treat complex issues like crime with critical thought.  We have a moral obligation to push for better, more effective services.  A fairer country and a safer country requires the input of many view points.  I’ve been happy to share views on this issue, please continue to share yours so that we can move forward together towards a safer country built from safer communities.

 

1http://www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/de-pd/index-eng.htm

2 http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2009/11/02/federal-prison-ombudsman002.html

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