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Increasing urban crime, Drugs, Publicly funded injection sites

The Prescription, Singapore, Not Safe Injection Sites

 By Dr. Gifford Jones  Thursday, October 7, 2010

Aha! Inspiration for a Christmas column. At breakfast this morning I read the morning newspaper. Page after page of it was devoted to increasing urban crime, young people killed in gun fights in broad daylight and drug problems in Vancouver. But what made me dream of Prozac was how authorities intend to counteract all this. Publicly funded injection sites for illegal drug users, a committee to investigate the police and the right to vote for murderers. Am I dreaming?

Of course proponents of safe injection sites point to the Swiss experiment. They argue that 10 years ago Platzspitz park in Zurich was better known as needle park. Hundreds of addicts came to buy heroin and inject it in broad daylight.

Swiss police began to drive the addicts out of Platzspitz, but the addicts didn’t vanish. Rather, they are now part of Switzerland’s heroin prescription programme.

To be sure, there’s one benefit to safe injection sites. They keep people from hiding in public toilets. Sterile needles also fight of infection and they may help cure the occasional addict. One Swiss participant remarked, “I can now afford to move to Morocco and live off my Swiss welfare cheque!

Critics, particularly the U.S government, are vehemently opposed to safe injection sites. They argue that providing a heroin addict this facility is like giving an alcoholic another scotch-and-soda.

Both sides are missing the point. Swiss safe injection sites merely cover-up a festering sore. And critics of these sites offer no alternatives. Yet the answer is already functioning and it’s known as, “The Singapore Solution.”

Several years ago while talking with law enforcement agencies in Singapore they laughed at the idea of safe injection sites. Singapore’s feeling about illegal drugs is crystal clear on the visitor’s disembarkation form. It reads, “Welcome to Singapore”. But stamped in bright red is a more impressive message. “Death for Drug Traffickers under Singapore Law”. Unless you have a death wish it makes anyone sit up and take notice.

Former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew introduced the death penalty for drug traffickers in 1970. Heroin dealers quickly got the message when they realized authorities intended to hang them. Others received a shock when they were sentenced to life imprisonment for carrying a gun during a robbery.

Bleeding hearts argue Singapore’s punishment is offensive and that harsh laws do not deter criminals. But Singapore proves them wrong. Officials point out that there hasn’t been a bank robbery for years. Nor has the size of the police force been increased for 27 years. And objectionable as caning may be only five percent of criminals are charged with repeat offences. What more evidence do we need?

I admit a tinge of guilt about talking tough at this time of the year. Particularly during this festive season when everyone will be preaching peace on earth and goodwill to man. But try as I might I can’t see where all this goodness and peace on earth is?

At Christmas 2002 I wonder how many more lives will be ruined or snuffed out by drug traffickers before our government follows Singapore’s solution? One would have to be brain-dead not to see how soft laws for drug traffickers has been a dismal failure. Moreover, our head-in-the-sand approach continues to cost us all billions of dollars. Stolen cars, break-ins, a dispirited police force are all visible symptoms.

There’s also a huge medical bill. Crack-cocaine-addicted women give birth to brain-damaged babies who become wards of the state for the rest of their lives. Stolen cars result in police chases and end in death or devastating long-term injuries. The list goes on and on.

Singapore authorities claim our society is “irresponsibly permissive”. And providing safe injection sites without also adding the Singapore solution for traffickers is hopeless and misguided.

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Dr. Gifford Jones  Bio
Dr. Gifford Jones Most recent columns

W. Gifford-Jones M.D is the pen name of Dr. Ken Walker graduate of The Harvard Medical School. He’s been a ship’s surgeon, hotel physician and family doctor and later trained in surgery at McGill in Montreal, University of Rochester N.Y. and Harvard. His medical column is published by 60 Canadian newspapers and several in the U.S. He is the author of seven books. Dr. Walker has a medical practice in Toronto. His Web site is: http://www.mydoctor.ca/gifford-jones

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