Canada's anti-drug strategy a failure, study suggests

Hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent to enforce Canada's drug laws with little to show for it, suggests a new report to be published Monday.

Hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent to enforce Canada's drug laws, with little to show for it, suggests a new report from the country'slargest HIV/AIDS research and treatment facility.

Illicit drugs remain cheap andeasily available, and are used by more people than ever, says the report by the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS.

"In 1994, 28.5 per cent of Canadians reported having consumed illicit drugs in their life; by 2004, that figure had jumped to 45 per cent," said a news release from the group.

The report, which is based partly on data obtained through freedom of information requests,saystoo much of Ottawa's multimillion-dollar strategy goes toward policinginstead oftreatment, prevention and research.

Treasury Board documents show 73 per cent of the $368 million spent on targeting illicit drugs in 2004-2005 went toward law enforcement initiatives.

The remainder was split among treatment (14 per cent), research (seven per cent), prevention (2.6 per cent) and harm-reduction programs (2.6 per cent).

Money well spent: RCMP

Thedirector of the RCMP's drug branch in Ottawa said spending money on law enforcement has a ripple effect.

"It's about the impact it's having on society and the communities where we live … the home invasions, the grow-ops," said Supt. Paul Nadeau.

"It's not just solely about law enforcement, taking people to court, that sort of thing. We're involved in trying to push other approaches, other initiatives to try to make an impact on these issues."

Dr. Julio Montaner, one of the authors of the study,believes more should be spent onharm reduction, such as needle exchanges and safe-injection sites. Such programs are being threatened despite proof they benefit both drug addicts and taxpayers, he said.

Ottawa has given Vancouver's Downtown Eastside safe-injection sitea year-long extension to continue operating, though its long-term future remains uncertain. It has been operating since 2003, with an exemption under Section 56 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Health Minister Tony Clement have said they will wait for the result of studies on supervised injection sites to help decide the site's future.

Police program criticized

The reportsingles outa program called DARE, whichsends police into schools to talk to young people about the dangers of drug abuse. In 2006, 75,000 students in 1,600 Canadian schools heard from police officers as part of the program.

DARE receives a lot of money and attention in Canada's official drug strategy, but hasn't shown any proof of effectiveness, said Montaner.

"Having politicians pretending they know what is going to fix the drug problem in the absence of objective indicators is a recipe for disaster," he said. "It's a recipe for hidden agendas, recipe for ideological agendas and a recipe for people to try to impose a world on you as opposed to what the world really is."

DARE and similar programs should face the same level of scrutiny as the safe-injection site and have their funding taken away if they don't show success, he said.

"The DARE program is entrenched into the strategy and begs the question, why? If it's not working, let's fix it, let's change it, let's modify it," he said.

An Ottawa RCMP officer who helps run the program said that while there's little scientific proof it works, he believes it is successful.

"From my experience as a front-line officer working in those schools, I have to say it has the ability to bring some very positive outcomes to those kids," said Sgt. Mark Sorokan.

When Canada's new drug strategy was launched in 2003, the government promised to deliver status reports every two years. No reports or evaluations have been made available so far, say the authors.

The reportwill be published in Monday'sHIV/AIDS Policy and Law Review.