Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Drug Abuse Coverage Leaves Out the Science

How the media covers harm reduction.

Lewis Mehl-Madrona, a graduate of the Stanford University School of Medicine, recently wrote a piece for that zeroes in on a series of highly pertinent questions about the manner is which the America media tends to cover drug policy stories. Questions like: Why is the existence of credible scientific research rarely mentioned when drug controversies are in the headlines? Why does science not matter when it comes to the coverage of drug policy issues?

Mehl-Madrona cites the example of U.S. television coverage of Vancouver’s Insite project in Canada, which provides addicts with clean needles and a supervised injection room. Such “consumption rooms” are also available in Europe, and are being tried sporadically in the U.S. (See my earlier post on drug injection sites) Here is his reaction:

“The American TV was awash with criticisms of this policy, the primary one being that it promoted drug abuse and caused people to abuse drugs even more than they otherwise would. What amazed me was the complete lack of attention to data in the American media. Substantial research has been conducted on Insite and on harm reduction models. It is known that programs like Insite reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS and of hepatitis C and reduce drug overdose. No evidence exists to support its spreading drug abuse.”

One of the primary concerns raised by the media was whether the Insite facility would encourage addiction by making injections safer and easier. Yet a reliable study in the British Medical Journal showed no substantial increase in relapse or decrease in quit rates among a group of Insite users.

Another concern was that the Insite facility would discourage drug addicts from seeking treatment. However, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2006, involving more than 1,000 users of the facility, found that “individuals who used Insite at least weekly were 1.7 times more likely to enroll in a detox program than those who visited the centre less frequently,” according to Mehl-Madrona.

Moreover, the study confirmed that onsite addiction counselors were successfully increasing the number of addicts who signed up for detox. Rather than discouraging addicts from seeking treatment, the study confirmed that Insite was “facilitating entry into detoxification services among its clients.”

“I don't have an answer for why ideology trumps scientific evidence in the United States and its media” Mehl-Madrona writes. “Why are the opinions of ordinary people in cities across the United States considered more valid than three dozen rigorous scientific studies? Is this just the American way?”

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Adi said...

A researcher I worked with back at Cal State Long Beach did a pretty comprehensive, experimental, study on needle exchanges and found no increase in drug use (actually a small decrease). His research findings were pretty much railroaded because of the lack of willingness within the American establishment to be open to the harm reduction approach.

Unfortunately, in the US, drugs are bad and the only way to resolve addiction is to make them disappear... Good luck.

Dirk Hanson said...

Adi: Good luck with that, indeed. Harm reduction is equivalent to capitulation in the minds of too many politicians.

Anonymous said...

nice post. thanks.

Al Arsenault said...

All this talk about curtailing drug-related diseases and overdose deaths through needle exchanges and drug injection sites. What is really needed are solid drug prevention measures and decent long-term treatment. These efforts would far better resolve all of these problems. What addicts WANT are free needles, drugs and a place to shoot up because they are 'not ready to quit'. What they NEED is treatment. Bleeding hearts (and legalizers) pander to the lowest common denominator and facilitate drug use to make them feel compassionate (and further their cause). The Vancouver experience has been a dismal failure with hundreds dead and very high rates of disease- look at the amputees hobbling around down there now! Coerced treatment works as well as voluntary treatment and I see no government-sponsored treatment centers as sweet and sexy as our drug injection site. It’s hard to find treatment in the shadow of Harm Reduction (watch this video clip- for some real 'insight' into this mess). Addicts are so drug-addled as to not see that there is hope for salvaging their human potential- what is the excuse for the blindness shown by those in the 'junkie industry' (besides making a living off the backs of these poor unfortunates so desperately needing help)? We owe it to addicts to be judgmental, not about WHO they are as people rather, about HOW their drug-related behaviour is costing themselves, their families and society at large. To do anything else lacks compassion and moral fiber.

Dirk Hanson said...

So what's being suggested here? Forced incarceration in treatment camps? Or just more of the same--long prison sentences?

Unknown said...

Continuing developments in almost all (if not all) the sciences such as cosmology, ecology, neuroscience, astrophysics, etc. are showing more and more clearly that we are 'birthed' from nature. This is in contrast to thousands of years of religious teaching that we were created directly by a god and given dominion over nature. I think we're seeing a backlash against all scientific thinking for this reason. As we had to relinquish earth's position as the center of the universe centuries ago we are now having to relinquish our position as god's favorite. Unfortunately like before many people will suffer in the transition.

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