Making the Business of Life Easier

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Reaction to Jane Armstrong's piece
Monday, August 13, 2001

The following are some reactions to the story and their thoughts on what should be done to help heroin addicts.

I really enjoyed reading your article Jane Armstrong. You bring to light many things that I never would have imagined. Thank you and the Ross family for sharing their heart saddening and eye-opening story.
Sincerely, Eugene

They should be given a leathal overdose and buried 10 feet deep.

What can be done to prevent or slow down the importation of drugs into Vancouver - heavier and more sophisticated surveillance?( trying to trace back from the user to the dealer to the importer and to the exporter)Cannot enough funds be utilized to examine where the laundering of all these transactions must be taking place,especially with the advent of the computerized technology that must now be available. Are the civil rights of a few being protected to the detriment of the many? Of course legalization of many of the drugs could prevent much of crime we are seeing and the establishment of more treatment centers would save many from their lives of addiction and related crime, but are we willing to channel resources and money into this endeavour? Will we gradually see a greater outcry as the baby boomer generation's children become more at risk of their lives being destroyed and the resulting effects on the involved families. Education in the school systems is an absolute must, the romanticism of rebellion and negative attention derived from the use of various drugs has to be shown to be evil in its intent.

Check out Holland and Switzerland, England I believe, also--treatment including methadone.

Drugs need to be legalized so that we can control it. People need to have safe havens to get better. By legalizing drugs we take out all the sleezebags who make millions preying on sick people. It is the innocent bystander who gets robbed and beaten by drug users needing money to have their fix. As a country we all need to work together to solve the problem not bandaid it.

In your story about the plight of the Hall family, I found it despicable that any so-called treatment centre would turf someone out because they had lapsed, or were disobeying the rules. If what you report is accurate, it would appear that treatment centres for addiction have little knowledge of how to treat the underlying causes of addiction, and are solely concerned with pumping out so-called "clean" people. Once the physical addiction has been removed for a few weeks, the addict is allowed to go back on the streets. No effort seems to be made to deal with the underlying psychological needs which lead to the addiction in the first place. The battle is being lost because of a lack of commitment from both the counseling side, and the legislative side of the battle. Harsher sentences for bona-fide drug dealers are needed; more international presence in the control of drug producing countries; more resources dedicated to the elimination of drug imports into our country. On the psychological front, more resources are necessary to understand and treat the underlying needs which manifest themselves as physical addiction. Detox centres which throw out a patient when they are simply behaving like an addict should be severely dealt with. They are saying to addicts: "We will help you, but only to a point. If you make are life difficult, you're gone." I notice that the parents in your story seemed to be holding down their jobs throughout their childrens' drug addictions. Perhaps this was simply an omission, (or bias?) within your story, but how can one say that they are committed to their childrens' lives, and also be committed to making the high income they reportedly earn. There is a lot of stress for the family that is operating at the top of the income scale as it is constantly worried about a decline in lifestyle. I'm surprised to hear that the parents did not take a major break in their careers to help their children. Perhaps I simply misunderstood the story.

I believe any person addicted or who wants to get high should enter a compound where free drugs and alcohol will be issued when needed to suppress their hang ups or their belief they can't cope in the real world anymore. They must stay there until they get so sick they don't want to get sick anymore the next compound is for the sick who want to get well and want to atone for the abuse they done to themselves all this would be under the care of professionals. The last phase would be out and into there group programs and into society, if they still cannot hack it, return to the compound for another round or until death. Once they have this choice society wont be troubled with this person stealing etc, etc, from the public. Also while in this area they must take care of themselves, other than medical.

Don't help them, the time has to come for them to help themselves. Do not hinder them with methadone or religion, get out of their way. Helping them hasn't saved many but probably has brought many more people to like the same problem (or to be caught up in the same problem and to be susceptible to more serious problems associated with heroin. I have known nice people who became heroin addicts but have not known any heroin addicts who could afford to be nice people. I guess heroin use should not be illegal but selling heroin should be an offence with only one penalty. No plea bargaining or deals for pals of the police, politicians or family not exempt, No one exempt. That penalty should be 70% income tax for life on all income, no allowable tax exemptions until citizenship is changed and applies if resident of Canada. If convicted of selling heroin all Health Care Benefits forfeit without possibility of regaining them unless source of supply revealed and source is prosecuted successfully.

I am not a health expert or social worker; I have no professional expert advice to offer heroin addicts or those who suffer with them. My two cents of the day is that I don't understand, after an admittedly, perhaps, disrespectful skim through Ms. Armstrong's piece, why the editors feel heroin addicts need advice.

Ross Hall is "now 21," Ms. Armstrong writes, "he is tall, with an athletic build and clear blue eyes, a far cry from the scrawny, hollow-eyed addicts that inhabit Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. His hair is cut short. His clothes are West Coast casual. Yet the first thing Ross thinks of when he wakes up in the morning is getting high." Ms. Armstrong seems surprised that a young, athletic blue-eyed male from the suburbs, with well-kept hair and comfortable clothing could be a "suburban junkie."

Somehow, I always thought people knew better. Addiction is a problem but not the source. Advice for heroin addicts is like tylenol for cancer patients. (I make that analogy without any medical background. My apologies.) Ross Hall is an individual with a problem. And I don't know how to put this tactfully, but the problem is not, as the editors or perhaps Ms. Armstrong seems to think, that Mr. Hall is addicted to heroin.

Addiction is merely a symptom, the source of which is something far more difficult to overcome, because you can't see it, you probably won't ever understand it, and no matter how many outstretched arms there are to help you, it will always just be you and It.

The unhappy revelation for people, such as the Halls or Ms. Armstrong, is that you cannot fight or protect anyone from the evil that haunts the Ross Halls of this world. You can call it teenage angst or try to make it out as abberrant behaviour. You can attempt to blame it on their upbringing, but as Mr. Hall pointed out, it wasn't as if he thought his parents didn't love him.

Mr. Hall describes It as an "emptiness," a sense of "gnawing dissatisfaction" that one could tritely describe as what 'drove him to drugs.' Addicts can overcome physical dependencies with professional help, but what can one offer them for the emptiness within?

There was a piece published in the National Post at the beginning of this month, written by Mr. Andrew Mills whose point was that perhaps it is time for Salinger's Holden Caulfield to retire. Mr. Mills felt that Holden's angst is irrelevant to the problems of young people today. It appears Mr. Mills belongs to the class of suburban non-junkies: Clearly, he does not experience a persistent "gnawing dissatisfaction," a sense of innate discontentment, that something is wrong with the world.

It's been long since time that people realize social class, economic standing and even the length of one's hair are not indicators of one's potential to be or past history as an addict. Unhappiness happens to everyone. The discontentment that plagued Jim Carroll (author and subject of 'The Basketball Diaries'), and continues to overwhelm individuals such as Ross Hall, does not distinguish between "Downtown Eastside" streetwear and "West Coast casual."

Holden Caulfield thought if everyone just stopped acting like phonies, the world would be alright again. Holden wandered through New York, went from prostitutes to childhood memories, in search of something to make him feel okay. Mr. Hall is not from New York but like Holden, was looking for a miracle, and as he describes the first time he lit up a joint, he thought he had found it. Maybe there's a medical explanation for all this. I don't know if everyone experiences a "gnawing" sense of dissatisfaction. And if they do, I don't know why some people are overwhelmed by it and others either deal with it or are able to ignore it. It just doesn't seem fair to continue misrepresenting the problem, and attributing it all to some smoke and powder.

The focus has to be on treating the disease as a disease, not as a crime. The more effectively that society learns to treat hard drug addictions, like heroin addiction, more as a health/medical issue and less as a law enforcement issue, then the better we will do in helping heroin addicts.

Jane, Re: your article about Ross
My understanding is that the big correlation with cocaine and heroin use is the use of cigarettes and alcohol. It has something to do with a risk-taking personality. Why, then, imply that marijuana was a part of his fall to harder drugs? In fact, the vast majority of youth who do try marijuana do not move on to harder drugs. Why didn't you ask Ross about the first time he smoked a cigarette or tried alcohol? Did he experiment with these before trying marijuana?
Try some recent articles in the Economist for some real insight into the problem (not listed in your web references). Consider the Dutch approach, for example. So why fob this bleeding-heart article onto Canadians as something that might provide a balanced viewpoint of a difficult problem? Why do we have to look for a made-in-Canada solution when there are working solutions elsewhere in the world?
Hugh Geiger

The story tears at my heart both as a father of three teenagers and as a former drug addict (thirty years ago).
I live very comfortably now, and most of those who know me would be surprised at (if not disbelieving of)my former life.
My own children would be, though I've tried to be honest about my life when asked. What tears at my heart is not so much the memories of the pain and despair that was part of my life back then (although that's part of it). It is partly just the normal reaction of a parent watching children that are the same age as his walking into danger.
But it is also the knowledge that, to the addict, at times, there is no life worse than one faced unassisted by chemicals. This is what no one but the addict can understand. That is why the life that looks so awful from the outside is the one that they will choose time and again, even after they've been "cleaned up" with methadone, good food and shelter and new clothes.

Tell them about Jesus. He is the only one that can fill that deep deep emptiness in the human soul.

Much of the time people turn to substances like drugs and alcohol as a way to ease emotional distress. In the case of the boy in the article, he was lonely, felt like an outcast, a misfit, and very likely the reason he embraced drugs to such an extent was that the drugs helped him overcome this emotional pain. Well, it's impossible to prevent pain- everyone feels it- and while psychotherapy may be an option for some, it's too expensive for everyone, and it frankly doesn't always work. What can be done that is simple, that might help the addicts realize they are useful and valuable people, and give them a sense of purpose? I can't help thinking of all the abused and unwanted pets in animal shelters around the country. These pets don't care who you are or what you look like, they're happy to see you and they just want to be walked, played with, petted, bathed and fed. Most people enjoy being with or helping animals- why can't heroin treatment programs include 'animal therapy' sessions, where the addicts help take care of animals in shelters as part of their treatment? It will help the shelters out, and who knows, it may give the addicts a sense of self-worth that will make it easier to let go of the drugs. Not that this is sufficient in itself- medical measures and enforcement of ground rules in existing treatment programs are required- but I think it could help.
Dr. Elizabeth Bent

I think heroin addicts should unknowingly be given a lethal dose so that their next hit becomes deadly. If they are stupid enough to try heroin and become junkies, then they should pay for that selfishness with their own lives. I have survived similar experiences to the ones described in this article and truly believe heroin addicts should not be forgiven for their crimes.

Read other readers' reactions to Jane Armstrong's piece.
1. Expand methadone programs ten-fold.
2. Expand methadone programs to rural areas.
3. Ease the rules for methadone program entry.
4. Ease the rules for staying in a methadone program.
5. Methadone available in more pharmacies.
6. Make heroin available to hardcore users (cheap or free).
7. Safe areas to fix.
8. Consider addiction a medical, not a law enforcement, problem. The above would be a good start.

Change the names and this article could have been a re-write from 1950-2001. No, smoking pot does not lead to heroin addiction and yes most addicts are from well off families since they can afford to experiment with the more costly drugs . 2 years of studying Drugs and Canadian drug laws at Simon Fraser University has taught one how naive the North American public is when it comes to drugs. The propaganda by governments and the non-informed is astounding. A friend went the same route as this young addict and now is illegal drug free but addicted to the legal drugs (prozac & alcohol). We had our addict relocate to a city where we did not know anybody or where to access illegal drugs. In any event, the crack use stopped, cocaine use stopped, heroin use stopped and smoking pot was permissible.(no harm from pot no matter what any government says) Doctors prescribed prozac and the world is now a fuzzy little place . 5 years later and still addicted to prozac and alcohol. Thanks doc Stop giving these spoiled kids so much money to buy these drugs, make pot legal. Alcohol is far more addictive and destructive. Legalize heroin maintainance to get these individuals off of heroin. Education not propaganda Rehabilitation not incarceration Laws that make sense. If one does have an addictive type personality one will always be this way.
G. Silvia

Take away the source! Make dealing a prison for life offence, this would not get rid of the drug completely but dealers would be few and far between changing the economics of supply. The price would be way out of the price range of new users in general. There will be more future users as the drug gets more common and accepted. Dealers will have easier access to potential clients. As with alcohol and tobacco that the government pushes from corner stores. So get rid of the source, the dealers! The drug is only attractive to the dealers if the risk verses profit are a viable combination. If dealing is a capital offence they will not deal unless the profit is worth going to jail for life , or worse.
The price will be astronomical and unobtainable to kids like Ross !!

The piece was heart-wrenching; what advice can anyone offer, given the lengths to which people have gone on this young man's behalf? Ultimately, it is his struggle; those who love him can offer support - but only he can make the move to living clean. His parents decision to seek out support from others in their situation and to lobby politically probably represent the extent of reasonable options available to them. I, as well as other readers, I suspect, would very much like to know what happens to this family.

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