Our paper is full of medical and social issues this week. And as always when space is measured by column inches, there simply isn’t enough room to tell the entire story.
Two stories in particular that need more space than we have to spare are the concerns raised around elder abuse and harm reduction.
At the root of both these issues, in my mind, is the concept of social capital. What that means, in a nutshell, is the health of a person or community can be determined by examining the connection between people.
Last Wednesday, Mark Haden spoke at the harm reduction forum for considerable time about social capital. He talked about addiction being an attachment disorder. If a child doesn’t bond with a loving adult during their formative years, the theory is he or she will spend the rest of their life looking for a substitute for the lack of early connection.
It’s an argument that holds true for elder abuse as well. If the child in his or her growing years doesn’t realize a bond or develop respect for a parent or guardian, it’s a lot easier to bash granny or gramps and take what the abuser thinks is owed to them.
The problem with that premise is that we assume people have no control over their emotions or that early neglect can’t be overcome. Fortunately life is never that black and white.
Answers to complex questions can’t be nailed down by blaming early nurturing (or lack thereof) or the police for stepping in where many of us fear to tread or the media for reporting what’s in front of us.
My feeling is that compassion always needs to be tempered with reason when dealing with social ills. And that prevention, more than any other element of addiction and abuse, is the key.
Yes, we need to take care of the person struggling just to survive. But something recoils deep inside me when harm reduction includes telling someone completely strung out on drugs that the best we can do is to urge him or her to leave one clean vein for the emergency response team. Is it saying, ‘We’ve given up on saving you, but we will keep you alive to use another day’?
I have to agree with Dr. Ron Mundy that abstinence is the ultimate in harm reduction. But I also recognize for some addicts that will never be the answer. So what is the answer? And probably another question we should be asking ourselves is, ‘How big is the problem on the Sunshine Coast?’
There are many people I admire very much working in the addictions field on the Coast. Six organizations that encompass many of them — Arrowhead Clubhouse, Vancouver Coastal Health, Sechelt Indian Band, Sunshine Coast Community Services, School Board No. 46 and the Salvation Army — have secured $7,000 to study mental illness, substance abuse and harm reduction on the Coast. Their proposal is due Sept. 18. I look forward to seeing the results on their collaboration.
In the meantime, I think all of us need to keep open minds and stay alert to the lack of social capital in our piece of paradise. It will take all of us working together to reap the riches.