An interesting approach in Vancouver, B.C.
All of this underscores why widespread drug addiction is ultimately everybody's problem. Obviously, getting street addicts to clean up takes more than free needles. It takes affordable housing, mental health services, counseling and treatment, all of which are in short supply, even in Vancouver. For some addicts, it might also take the threat of jail.
But it doesn't have to be an either/or choice. As the American Medical Association states in its official position on the issue, "Harm reduction can coexist, and is not incompatible, with a goal of abstinence for a drug-dependent person, or a policy of 'zero-tolerance' for society."
Advocating anything that sounds "soft on drugs" is generally considered political suicide for elected officials in most parts of the U.S. But as Vancouver has proved, a coalition of health care officials, activists and courageous politicians armed with solid data can change that equation. "No one in the U.S. wants to touch this stuff because they're afraid they won't get elected if they do," says Philip Owen, Vancouver's former mayor. "Well, I was re-elected three times."