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Malthus Then and Now

This week marked the first anniversary of Vancouver's safe injection site, which I blogged about when it was about to open last year. According to the site's press release:

Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) believes its Supervised Injection Site, Insite, is savings [sic] lives following the release today of the one-year research report from the team responsible for evaluating the site for a three-year clinical trial.

According to the Evaluation of the Supervised Injection Site ? Year One Summary [PDF available here] released today, Insite is achieving high client volumes, referring clients to health services they might not have otherwise accessed, and providing overdose interventions to clients...

"Insite is exceeding expectations in terms of client volume and satisfaction, and referrals to addiction services and other treatment," Ida Goodreau, President and CEO of VCH, said. "Based on what we see in the report, Insite has saved lives and improved lives."

As noted in my previous blog entry, the US government has criticized the idea of safe injection sites, and more recently a UN agency weighed in against it.

I've been reading Robert Hughes' exquisitely written and staggeringly well-researched book on Australia's founding, The Fatal Shore. A passage in the book reminded me of opposition to harm reduction policies, which is typically (though not always) a right-wing view. In the passage, Hughes describes England of the 1830s:

Most rural workers were below the poverty line at a shilling a day or less; some earned only three shillings a week. But the Tory politicians of the day saw the problem in terms of one hypnotic ideology: that of Malthus, who taught that it was futile to spend any money on poor relief, since it would only encourage the poor to breed and thus make the problem worse. If left to survive or starve, the poor would find their "natural" level. And since the out-of-work did not, by definition, generate wealth, their survival was not an issue for the government.
It would be hard to find a harm reduction opponent who would admit it, but if we could look in their hearts -- in some of them, at least -- would we see Malthus at work, two centuries later, telling them to let the junkies kill themselves off?


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