By Susan Martinuk
Susan Martinuk is a Vancouver-based freelance journalist.
“As the earthly bearers of God’s truth and compassion, we cannot leave these broken souls to a society that has abandoned them to a feast that is killing them.” ~Susan Martinuk
There are few places as desperate and destitute as the corner of Hastings and Main in Vancouver’s notorious Downtown Eastside. It is home to an estimated five thousand drug addicts; almost all of them homeless, jobless, marginalized from society and estranged from their families.
Most of all, they are utterly broken in body, mind, and spirit.
Compassion could make a difference here.
That is, if compassion is properly considered as coming alongside, showing empathy and care, and helping them to do what is necessary to achieve a full, healthy and drug-free life.
The problem is that there are a host of organizations and special interest groups that have invaded the Downtown Eastside with a very different kind of compassion. It provides addicts with safe injection sites, clean needles, crack pipes, untainted drugs, nursing and medical care.
With all this assistance, one would expect a decline in overdoses. But the two-block area surrounding Hastings and Main had over 3,000 911 calls for overdoses in just two years.
Sadly, the end goal for this compassion is nothing more than to have a somewhat healthier addict who does illegal drugs under supervision. It leaves the streets filled with homeless, marginalized addicts who are doomed to a life ruled by chemical dependence and living under the haze of pharmaceutical oblivion.
When a society doesn’t have the courage to say, no, and people don’t have God’s love to share, it seems this is the best that compassion can do for drug addicts.
Our national opioid epidemic is making this situation even worse.
Opioid overdoses claimed the lives of almost 4,000 Canadians last year and media coverage of opioids as legitimate painkillers has led to a widely-held perception that the opioid overdoses are the result of physicians with overactive prescription pads.
Yet the government’s own statistics show the epidemic is primarily an extension of our ongoing street drug problem and our lax efforts to do anything about it.
Opioids are just the new drug of choice.
Across Canada, three of every four opioid-related deaths involved illegal opioids laced with fentanyl and 71% involved other illegal drugs such as heroin, cocaine and meth. In British Columbia, fentanyl-laced drugs accounted for 84% of deaths and 80% of those who died were regular users of illicit drugs.
In yet another example of misplaced compassion (and government creating policy without considering the facts), the Federal Government announced that it would contain this growing epidemic by restricting the marketing of opioids in medical journals, medical conferences and in doctors’ offices.
It’s obviously time for a reality check: Drug industry shills aren’t standing on Hastings and Main handing out medical journals with ads for opioids laced with fentanyl, drug users aren’t reading medical journals and doctors aren’t writing prescriptions for illegal, tainted opioids.
Prescription painkillers can be addictive, and some unknowledgeable physicians may still hand out Oxycontin like candy. But a B.C. Coroners’ investigation found no link between medical prescriptions and illicit deaths, and no proof that chronic pain patients are buying street drugs. The national statistics appear to support this.
Christians who hear the cries of those on the street have a duty to call out the false compassion that currently dictates drug policies for what they are – an empty experiment in keeping a cohort of humanity barely alive, yet still addicted. The craving is unabated, there is no change in their minimal existence and there is little hope for a future in the real world.
As the earthly bearers of God’s truth and compassion, we cannot leave these broken souls to a society that has abandoned them to a feast that is killing them.
Some elements of this column were originally published in The Vancouver Sun, July 10, 2018.