Tony Clement Talks Tough On Drugs

by Ann Samuel on Aug 22 2007 3:18 PM

Canada’s Federal Health Minister Tony Clement has sent out a no-frills anti-drug message to doctors. According to him, youngsters need straight talk about the dangers of illicit drugs like marijuana.

"The messages young people have received during the past several years have been confusing and conflicting to say the least," Clement addressed the annual meeting of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) in Vancouver, Monday.

"We are very concerned about the damage and pain that drugs cause families and we intend to reverse the trend toward vague, ambiguous messaging that has characterized Canadian attitudes in the recent past," he added.

Clement went on to say that the government plans a campaign, which will emphasize the dangers of all illicit drugs in any quantity. Young people should be discouraged from thinking there are safe amounts or safe drugs, he stressed.

Clement bemoaned the fact that in Canada, there are nearly as many people who smoke marijuana as ones who smoke tobacco. He blamed vague, ambiguous messaging from politicians and public-health officials, for this.

"The debate over whether to legalize marijuana, for example, has left an entire generation confused over whether or not pot is legal in Canada. Ladies and gentlemen, it is not," Clement emphasized. Isra Levy, president of the National Specialty Society for Community Medicine, commended the minister, saying that "illicit drug use is indeed a scourge, it's the cause of untold misery for those ill with addiction and their loved ones."

Yet Levy cautioned that a drug strategy should consist not only of forceful public-health messages, but a combination of prevention, treatment, adequate enforcement and harm-reduction initiatives.

Meanwhile, Clement managed to avoid questions about the future of Vancouver's supervised injection site; InSite He said recent research had cast doubts on earlier studies that found the site has reduced needle sharing and public drug use while encouraging addicts to seek treatment.

Ottawa would weigh all the evidence before making a decision prior to Dec. 31, when the Health Canada exemption allowing the InSite facility to operate expires, he said.

InSite is North Americas first supervised injection site and a landmark public heath initiative operating in Vancouver since 2003. The program is a vital component of that cities internationally recognized harm reduction approach to its serious problems with drugs, crime, homelessness and AIDS.

InSite currently operates under a waiver of Federal rules that allow it to provide services as a research project. An extensive evaluation has produced very positive results for thousands of users.

Clement also stressed the need for Canada's health-care system to be smarter and more sophisticated.

"We have recently seen the serious threats posed to health and safety by counterfeit and dangerous imported products -- from bacteria in toothpaste to lead in toys. This is a great concern to the Canadian government and we are working on an action plan right now that will be ready very shortly”’ he was quoted.