The Students’ Society has developed a new service to provide resources for drug and alcohol education as well as activism on drug policy.
SSMU’s Harm Reduction Centre aims primarily at ensuring the safe use of drugs and alcohol among McGill students, said Floh Hera-Vega, vice president clubs and services. This will include hard drugs, such as heroine and crack cocaine, as well as marijuana and alcohol.
HRC is based on the premise that “if people are going to do something, one should give them the tools to do so safely,” Herra-Vega said.
According to Herra-Vega, the new service will make information available to students about what is dangerous, such as the reuse of needles, or smoking marijuana while on certain medications. The HRC will also provide resources for people with drug abuse problems, such as a help line and possibly counseling.
“We neither condone drug use nor condemn it,” said Eric Rumi, the interim president of the HRC, “we’re non-judgmental.”
Harm reductionists say that the preventive approach, which attempts to dissuade people from using drugs, is ineffective and has negative consequences.
“For all the people who choose to use [drugs] anyhow, they’re left with no access to information about the safe use of drugs, no information about the manufacture of drugs to ensure they are pure and safe,” he said.
Although Rumi acknowledges that preventive measures work with some people, he says harm reduction completely rejects that approach.
“We wouldn’t go out and say ‘this is dangerous, don’t do it.'” Instead, Rumi said, they would explain to McGill students and Montreal youths how to reduce the harms associated with the use of drugs, “should they choose to use them.”
However, some students don’t agree with the HRC’s approach to the issue.
Charles de Lannoy, U3 Physics, said that the use of heroine and crack cocaine should not under any circumstances be considered “safe.” They are extremely addictive and destructive to the body, he said.
“Their claim of being neutral towards drug use is kind of disingenuous,” de Lannoy said. “If [the HRC] is not discouraging the use of hard drugs and it’s showing students the ‘safe’ way to use them, they are implying that the use of this kind of drug is acceptable and legitimate,” he said. “They’re really not that neutral.”
The HRC has a policy agenda, which it will promote within the framework of the Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy (CSSDP).
“There’ll be chapters [of CSSDP] opening in different parts of the country . . . we will be the leading chapter,” Rumi said.
While the HRC advocates the legalization of marijuana, its policy position on hard drugs is still being developed.. Harm Reduction sees the ramifications of prohibitive drug policies as the cause of much of the harm associated with drug use, Rumi said.
“A lot [of harm reductionists] favour shifting Canada’s drug policy from enforcement to [a situation in which the] health care sector would regulate drug use,” he said. “One of the big misconceptions surrounding heroine addiction is that it renders you incapable of running your life. If heroine were available and prescribed by a doctor, [addicts] wouldn’t be in a desperate situation where they need to commit crimes,” Rumi said. “If they didn’t have to worry about where [to get] their heroine, they would have time . . . to look after their well being.”
Rumi does not think law enforcement alone will reduce the number of Canadian drug users.
“Studies show heroine and marijuana use has increased, despite the hundreds of millions the government spends every year on drug enforcement,” he said.
The HRC plans on working with the North American Opiate Medical Initiative, which does studies in the use of prescription heroine to help addicts get off the drug.
Jennifer Robinson, associate vice principal of communications at McGill, said that there is no concern that the HRC will have a lasting effect on McGill’s image. While the Administration “would not tolerate the promotion of drug use,” she said there is no evidence that the HRC does so and any suggestion that it does is speculation.
In two months, SSMU Council will decide whether to grant the HRC full-fledged service status. It was given interim service status in the meantime, because it would not receive the money and resources it requires without service status.
Over the next two months, the HRC “will have to show [it is] doing the work of a service,” Herra-Vega said. “It’s a trial period.”