OPIOIDS: We Can’t Stop Here. This is Bat Country

As published in The Sound @TheSoundStC

https://thesound.rocks/war-on-opioids-we-cant-stop-here-this-is-bat-country/

I felt sweet, swinging bliss, like a big shot of heroin in the mainline vein; like a gulp of wine late in the afternoon and it makes you shudder; my feet tingled. I thought I was going to die the very next moment. But I didn’t die…”  

– Jack Kerouac, On The Road

Before we talk about solutions, we need to understand the problem. There are several theories, or schools of thought, on drugs; chemical use, abuse, and/or addiction, as a disease of the spirit, or a moral weakness, is as old as chemical use while philosophizing. It’s the model on which the Temperance movement and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) are based and… it doesn’t work.

Early twentieth century temperance movements were focused on alcohol consumption – and despite short periods of prohibition, it’s known addictiveness, and morbidity and mortality rates alcohol is still widely consumed and accepted.

Alcohol is legal because the majority enjoy it, the economics of banning alcohol is prohibitive, and criminalization led to tainted homemade product and sky-rocketing death rates.

(Sound familiar?)

In short, regulation saves lives and builds government coffers through taxation while those who over imbibe, abuse and/or are addicted to, alcohol, are seen as having an illness and treated medically.

Just as AIDS would be a “gay issue” and crack cocaine would be a “Black issue”, the issue of opiate usage was seen as a race and poverty problem – best dealt with by locking people away. But, addiction is indiscriminate… even when society is not. Racialized, criminalized, stigmatized; enter the Age of Jazz, white children of counter-culture movements, and drug use in the twentieth century becomes a War on Drugs.

You can jail a Revolutionary,
but you can’t jail a revolution.

– Dr Huey P. Newton

Hemingway was fond of saying he drank to make other people more interesting… people forget alcohol is a drug and has the same use. Drug and alcohol use by intellectuals, artists, and those seeking to expand their reality, will always take place. Not everyone uses drugs and alcohol to mask pain, just as not all of those who use will become addicted; people do not fit in boxes.

Generations of this shit and we are no more evolved in our treatment of drug use and addiction than we were a century ago. We continue to lock people up for drug use despite it having no consequence to the user, even withdrawal isn’t assured – 5 people overdosed in 1 day last month at Niagara Detention Centre, while Hamilton-Hentworth Detention Centre saw 10 overdoses in 9 people in 6 days. Let that math sink in.

We continue to treat addiction like a moral fault with little regard for the biopsychosocial aspects of drug use. Those who do seek help for addiction, are faced with long waitlists for 21 day inpatient treatment, the current OHIP covered standard, which is basically supervised withdrawal and no better than prison.

Detoxing alone does not address the underlying issues: why did someone begin using in the first place? what has their use done to their relationships? how is their self-image?

In order to successfully maintain sobriety, people need a comprehensive approach including ongoing counselling, not groups or relapse prevention but actual psychotherapy, integrated life skills, employment programs, stable housing, and, if they choose, pharmacotherapies.

Desperation is the raw material of drastic change.
Only those who can leave behind everything
they have ever believed in can hope to escape.

–  William S. Burroughs

People who are street-involved, as many addicts are, are one of the most elusive and difficult populations to reach having been burnt, repeatedly, by the system. These are often the people with multiple problems, who shun offers of assistance, and are frequently loners.

People who isolate and avoid contact with others. People who live alone, use alone, die alone. It takes patience, consistency, and, honesty, to build trust; in a world where addicts have few choices, when we only offer limited services, at limited locations, we limit the persons ability to access help.

People are dying and whether you believe addiction is a weakness of the soul or a medical illness, we need to be discussing other strategies; we must do more than make token band-aid gestures.

Supervised injection sites are but one harm reduction strategy and, in a region as vast as Niagara, aren’t expected to have the efficacy we see in denser urban areas. One solution, being used in BC, is supervision of injection opioid use via webcam – you don’t get the immediate CPR help but you do get EMS immediately dispatched.

If we really want to prevent overdose deaths, we need to invest in providing drug purity testing kits with Naloxone. We need to offer the option of supervised injectable opioid agonist treatment (siOAT), a prescription hydromorphone, outside hospital settings as an alternative to methadone or suboxone treatments.

What we have been doing, for over a century, does not work. The economics of our failed system need to be addressed through decriminalization of drug use, to be replaced by long term treatment options.

In a region that is known for its wine, and it’s soaring overdose death rates, we need to be asking why we aren’t treating drugs like we treat alcohol – taxable, regulated, and most importantly, readily available for those who wish to consume it.

 

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NOTL: Not A Bee City

How many committees does it take to advise Niagara-on-the-Lake Council whether or not to declare itself, the Heart of Fruitland Ontario, a Bee City?

Two… Council referred the conversation about pollinators to both the Agriculture and In Blooms Committees.

Is NOTL so anti-pollinator that they must defer a motion to support pollinators to two committees ? The crowd heckled the Bee City presentation; it’s the twenty-first-century and I’m looking around for pitchforks and torches like we’ve been accused of witchcraft.

(A farm rich community one would think promoting pollinators would be a no brainer… but, alas, that doesn’t take into account the love of vinyards, soft flesh fruit, and golf courses – all known users of  pesticides).

bees

 

 

Opioids: The 110 Year War

medicine 3

As featured in @TheSoundStC, Niagara’s Largest Independent News: https://thesound.rocks/opioids-the-110-year-war/

On March 26th, Health Canada announced it had corrected a disconnect between federal drug regulations and the ability of doctors to prescribe synthetic heroin for long term users who have not benefited from other harm reduction, and medication, programs thereby removing undue barriers to treatment.

Preliminary death data by Public Health suggests more people died in Niagara of suspected opioid overdoses in a 6-month period of 2017 than all of 2016. Make no mistake: this will save lives.

NRPH death data 2017 Aug - Oct
Between August and October 2017, there were a total of 29 death from opioid-related causes in the Niagara Region.
Cases of opioid-related morbidity and mortality, Niagara Region Public Health, 2003 – 2016
2017 saw 60 suspected opioid-related overdoses by the end of October. By contrast, 2016 had 40 opioid-related deaths, 2015- 36, 2014- 35, 2013-33, 2012- 34.

Pre-criminalization: From war to taxation

Once upon a time, all granny had to do was walk down to her local apothecary and order herself up some cocaine or prescription heroin; soldiers, left addicted to morphine after being wounded, could order up opium by mail until 1908. One hundred and ten years : that’s how long it’s taken Canada’s government to criminalize, to stigmatize, and finally, to take some real action on opioid addiction.

Like alcohol, opium was considered a commodity, a revenue stream for the Crown; ever wonder how Hong Kong became a British subject? Opium. For real. Hong Kong island was ceded in the treaty ending The First Opium War. A decade later, in 1856, Britain again went to war with China, this time joined by France, in an attempt to further open China to foreign merchants, and legalize the opium trade, in what is commonly called the Second Opium War.

Even Canada imposed a tax on opium factories in 1871; because consumption of opium and cocaine were viewed in terms of medical uses, opiates were not only perfectly legal, they were completely unregulated. Medicines didn’t list their ingredients until the early-twentieth century and most users of opioids and cocaine, or some combination thereof, had no idea they were even taking these compounds, they just knew they felt better.

While therapeutic usage was not the only value to opium, recreational use is as old as the Mesopotamians, addiction for most was accidental (insert deja-vu reference).

With the synthesis of morphine, then heroin, and the advent of the hypodermic needle, opium use gained popularity throughout the nineteenth century. The medical profession was beginning to explore psychiatry and even Freud spoke of morphine addiction in his 1884 On Coca (still controversial, Freud, himself a regular intravenous cocaine user, advocated the use of cocaine as a cure for morphine addiction).

Yet  wasn’t until 1908 with the passage of the Opium Act of 1908 and the Proprietary and Patent Medicine Act 1908, that regulations around opiates and cocaine were introduced.   

So what changed in the years between 1871 and 1908? Why did Canada move away from taxation to classify substance use as criminal and vilify those we deem to reject proper societal rules?   

Moral Propagandists

Tell me if any of this sounds familiar; the world is in chaos as Imperial powers fight for control of key trade routes and resources. Mass waves of immigrants and refugees flee political turmoil and famine. Colonial institutions are failing as national protectionists are blaming the loss of jobs on reciprocity agreements, or lack thereof.

Don’t forget cheap labour, provided by new arrivals to the country! (If the men don’t have work, the men drink, and when the men drink, they beat their wives)

Even worse, women are marching. For rights. Equal rights of personhood! (feign moral indignation) if women drink or smoke opium, that leads to prostitution and other moral atrocities like unplanned pregnancy, venereal disease, and, worst of all… she might engage in sodomy (collective gasp) as the Church loses it’s congregation to new morals and a new society not entirely made of the Old World.

No, I am not dishing the salacious details of Trump’s as-yet-unnamed manifesto. Surprisingly, or not?, the more things have changed in the last century, the more they have stayed the same. So it was, with the first true waves of globalization, little more than a century ago, so-called proper society rejected mind and mood altering substances in favour of advocating temperance and sexual repression.

Racism, Fear, and Moral Agendas

Where once the government saw revenue, by the early-twentieth century, labour disputes and strikes brought with them rising racial tensions and newly created drug laws.

Some will argue that drug laws were entirely morally based but that simply isn’t true; the Opium Act of 1908 was initiated by then Deputy Minister of Labour MacKensie King after helping negotiate the end of two major labour strikes in 1907, both directly related to cheap Asian labour. While we might like to judge history less harshly, or turn a blind eye to the chronology of events, Canadian archives show that, by 1922, nearly three quarters of those imprisoned for opium offences were Asian Canadians.

The disproportionate number of Chinese charged under the Opium Act, and subsequent narcotics legislation, lead to the general population, European Canadians, to believe the laws didn’t apply to them.

And they didn’t; while opiates were restricted, there was nothing in the original legislation to prevent doctors from writing themselves scripts. That’s right. While granny could no longer walk over to the apothecary, Doc Magoo could… and so could granny after doc wrote her a script.

How many people do you think sought a doctor before Tommy Douglas gave us universal health care? Don’t hurt yourself, it was a rhetorical question.

If you still question whether race plays a factor in the application of drug laws, let’s look at current data. According to a 2013 report by the Office of Correctional Investigator, one in four people incarcerated in Canada are Indigenous, despite representing 3% of the general population; Black Ontarian’s are 3 times more likely to be charged for drug possession or trafficking and despite Black males representing 2.9% of the general population, they represent 9.8% of Canada’s incarcerated population; visible minority offenders increased 40% in the 5 years covered by the report.

And still, people use drugs; the threat of death by overdose and/or incarceration simply do not work as a deterrent; while we are busy locking people up, people are dying. Not just on the streets but in detention centres – there were 5 OD’s at the Niagara Detention Centre on March 24th (thankfully, all are expected to recover).

As our prisons grew to overcapacity, people found new ways to get high, and disputes over social moors continue. We’ve bumbled along, incarcerating and marginalizing; we’ve synthesised new, deadlier opioids; we’ve created a third Opium War.   

Peeling Back The Shame of the Twentieth Century

Alcohol use by humans predates the written word while archeological evidence points to opium being discovered around 5,500 years ago and chewing coca leaves around 5,000 years ago; addiction has been around as long as humans have sought to alter our perception through the use of chemical compounds. Colloquially known as the village drunk, it is only with societal disacceptance, and the advent of modern psychiatry, that we have tried to conceptualize drug and alcohol (ab)use.

One hundred and ten years after first passing regulations on opioid use, there is hope for drug users and those who suffer from addiction. We are peeling back the stigma we created to see the human beneath and acting on scientific data not moral superiority. We are easing access to medical treatments that have proved successful in managing addiction while providing users a modicum of respect and humanity… for that’s what harm reduction is: seeing the human being inside the addiction.

Once upon a time, all granny had to do was walk down to her local apothecary and order herself up some cocaine, morphine, or even prescription heroin; soldiers, left addicted to morphine after being wounded, could order up opium by mail.

After one hundred and ten years of stigmatization and criminalization, anyone who seeks to reduce the harm of their addiction to opioids through the use of medical heroin will again have access outside of a hospital setting. Those who seek to manage their opioid addiction through methadone, will have easier access and doctors who wish to prescribe methadone will no longer need to seek an exemption from drug laws.

__________________________________________

For hundreds of years, Colonizing powers have fought for Afghan poppyfields; Britain, Russia, the US, have all sought control of, and benefitted financially, from Afghanistan’s main harvest: the poppy. There is a direct correlation between the ongoing war in the middle east and the inability of world powers to stabilize the region, an addiction older than our love of fossil fuels, opium.

According to the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Afghan opium production was up 87% in 2017 – over 2016 – to 9000 metric tonnes. To put that in perspective, in 2001 opium production was at an all time low of 180 metric tonnes while in 2002, after the US invasion, it jumped to 3000 metric tonnes. If we are to understand how the twenty-first century has led to soaring opioid death rates, we need first examine the economic benefits. But alas, that is a topic best covered in depth; til next time, Niagara. Stay safe.   

Calling On NPCA’s Board To Drop Its Lawsuit Against A Former Employee — Niagara At Large

@NPCA_Ontario #Niagara #NiagaraPeninsula #ISupportJocelynBaker #DropTheSuit

‘The taxpayers of Niagara do not fund the NPCA with their tax dollars so that it can pursue lawsuits, under any circumstance, against private citizens. We expect the NPCA to spend our money on conservation efforts.’ A Message from Friends of Jocelyn Baker, a Niagara, Ontario-based citizen group organized in support of former NPCA employee […]

via Calling On NPCA’s Board To Drop Its Lawsuit Against A Former Employee — Niagara At Large

Port Dalhousie Secondary Plan

Yesterday. I posted this without comment as, per usual, I prefer humility to accolades. A day later, I’ve changed my mind.
 
“The councillors agreed to drop their FOI request a month later when city staff agreed to show the report to them confidentially with the rest of council. At least one member of the public, Emily Spanton, then filed her own FOI.”
 
Our councillors made a deal with the Devil and left it to us, the public, to fight for transparency and accountability on a highly contentious issue. We answered that deal by saying it was inappropriate and filing our own FOI requests to make the report public. We collected the funds to pay for report from community members. We answered the emails and calls from staff with further questions. We took time out of our day to twice go to city hall, first to file papers, second to pay the fee.
 
And it was only with their imminent release to me that councillors changed their tune and decided to fight for what is rightfully ours. So please, stop giving the credit to 3 men who couldn’t stick with their convictions and are taking the credit for the hard work of a woman and other community members.
It’s uncouth and highly inappropriate.

Niagara the Victim in Press Freedom fiasco, says Quirk

Our friend, and Grimsby representative at Niagara Region and Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, Tony Quirk flat out denies the December #PressFreedom incident happened and states #Niagara is…. a victim.

That’s right folks, Tony Quirk believes it acceptable to use the terminology sexual assault survivors use to describe their experiences in relation to the Region confiscating a venerated member of the press’ notes and laptop before ejecting him from a public building.

If anyone has a right to feel victimized, it is St Catharines The Standard’s Bill Sawchuk and the shocked citizens who were helplessly watching.

No amount of spinning will doctor this record, Tony.

 

The latest from The Standard: https://www.stcatharinesstandard.ca/news-story/8312515-region-victim-in-press-incident-says-quirk/

Or catch up on previous FEWniagara coverage: Cap Caper (the #PressFreedom Fiasco)

The Crux of Reles’ Uncouthness

Also Known As Why the NPCA’s Michael Reles pisses me off.

Reles

Why is Michael Reles’ comment so flippant?

Michael Reles is the Communications Manager/Freedom of Information and Privacy coordinator at the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (@NPCA_Ontario); it is literally Reles’ job to release documents requested of the publicly funded NPCA

(or The Authority as they’ve become known in the dystopia that is #Niagara politics).

The Authority’s board of directors comprises of 15 members, 12 of whom represent the Region of Niagara; most of the Niagara representatives at the NPCA are also lower-tier municipality Mayors and/or Regional Councillors.

The FOI process

NPCA 1 001
I requested full expenses including mileage in OCTOBER 2017…

Over a month later, I received a reply from Michael Reles (to the left).

I was called frivolous and vexatious.
For making a request. Through the Freedom of Information process.
For board and member expenses. Of a publicly funded agency.

So, I appealed.

I then requested a two week limit to mediation in favour NPCA 1 003of arbitration.

Mid-JANUARY, 2018, the Mediator informs me Michael Reles has reversed his position; not only am I no longer frivous and vexatious, Mr Reles, and the Authority, now state they would release the records, online, within 90 days.

NPCA 1 002

 

 

and I am not alone.

Local resident, and retired RCAF Major Ed Smith recently spoke with The Standard about his FOI dispute with the NPCA: https://www.stcatharinesstandard.ca/news-story/8291010-smith-npca-in-dispute-over-documents/

The Crux of Reles’ Uncouthness

What about it pissed me off so much?

In his Twitter post, Michael Reles states the media has never mentioned NPCA board mileage before now.

We’ve established Michael is withholding the required records to comment (remember, this guy is the NPCA Communications Manager), but, before he stopped complying with FOI requests, he released Authority Chairman Sandy Annunziata, and former Chairman Bruce Timms, 2017 Q1 & Q2 Expenses (below).

 

The hi-lited lines represent dates where MORE THAN ONE (two or more) PER DIEM were charged in a single day by a single board member.

Unless Latin has made a secret comeback, and changed without my knowledge, per diem translates to per day. Per day, by the day, for the day, daily. Not loosely translates as, or kinda means, but quite literally, and simply, translates to per day.

Not only has the public and media questioned this double diem-ing, Port Colborne council grilled CAO Mark Brickell and Chairman Sandy Annunziata about it in December 2017 https://www.niagarathisweek.com/news-story/8004769-port-colborne-seeks-provincial-supervisor-for-npca/

Stop the political skullduggery and misinformation at the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA); one could make the argument it is you who is vexatious, Mister Reles.