Monday, May 14, 2007

Beware the spin
May 11, 2007

News flash: Vancouver’s safe-injection site causes more harm than good.
So says the Drug Prevention Network of Canada, which last week reported “serious problems in the interpretation of findings” in a review of 10 studies about the site.
Research on the three-year-old site has to this point mostly been positive. Among other things, there’s been a drop in social disorder in Vancouver’s downtown eastside, an increase in the number of drug users wanting treatment, and successful interventions in 400-plus potentially fatal overdoses.
But prevention-network research director Colin Mangham contends the real picture is not nearly so rosy. He reviewed some of the studies and found that while they “give the impression the facility is successful. . . the research clearly shows a lack of progress, impact and success.”
Mangham’s findings were reported straight up by Canadian Press last week. They also made their way unchallenged into the on-line edition of Maclean’s magazine, CBC Radio, and some Canadian newspapers.
But as a number of intrepid bloggers have pointed out, the mainstream media outlets that took the CP story at its word did a disservice to anyone looking for all the facts.
A couple of rudimentary Google searches are all it takes to flush out some interesting details, as proven by the bloggers who looked a little deeper into the Mangham report.
Searching on the name of the group that wrote it, for instance, reveals that the organization is privately funded, abstinence-based, and headed by former Reform/Alliance MP Randy White. The vice-president of REAL Women Canada sits on the network’s board, as do representatives from a number of Christian groups.
Search on Mangham’s name and you’ll find that while he’s a genuine drug-policy researcher, his primary focus is abstinence.
His particular knowledge is around tobacco. Mangham runs the provincially funded Prevention Source BC, which aims to stop people from smoking.
Search on the name of the publication where Mangham’s report first ran, the Journal of Global Drug Policy and Practice, and you’ll learn that it’s funded by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Sitting on its editorial board are U.S. groups such as the Drug-Free Schools Coalition, the Drug Free America Foundation, and the National Drug Prevention Alliance.
The journal has published just two issues.
The first featured critiques of liberal marijuana policies. The second focused on harm-reduction programs like the safe-injection site, with headlines including “The Lure and Loss of Harm Reduction in UK Drug Policy and Practice,” and “Is it Harm Reduction or Harm Continuation?”
Nothing wrong with differing viewpoints on drug use and harm reduction, of course. A safe injection site is, after all, just a tiny piece of the puzzle when it comes to addressing the harms of addiction.
Ultimately, the Manghams of the world want to prevent the many miseries caused by drugs. I can’t fault them for that.
But being able to weight the findings of those with something to say on this most vital issue is of critical importance. We can’t afford to keep on making wrong moves in our drug policy.
Health care. Justice. Human rights. Urban renewal. Personal safety. Child welfare. On all fronts, we’re feeling the impact of drug addiction. Add in the exponential effect of leaving a growing problem to fester unattended, and the future looks downright ugly.
So if we hope to do something about that, we need to be informed as never before. We need the facts, presented as often as possible without the spin of a special-interest group in the background.
We don’t need this forces-of-good/evil approach anymore when it comes to our drug policy. It’s not working. We need clear-eyed thinking and well-reasoned approaches, all of it based on proven, efficient strategies.
Hearing what people like Mangham have to say is part of that process. I’ve got no quarrel with some of his or Randy White’s thoughts on dealing with addiction, particularly around providing easy access to treatment for anyone who wants it.
But knowing how to weight the blizzard of “facts” we’re presented with on any given day requires knowing more about whose facts they are, and what’s the context.
So no problem with the mainstream media running a story about a literature review published in a fledgling anti-harm-reduction publication funded by U.S. anti-drug interests. Or that the author of the review is a long-time foe of harm-reduction strategies with the support of some of the most conservative groups in Canada.
But we really need to know all that going in. In this case, the bloggers made sure that we did. The mainstream media didn’t.
The lessons learned? Trust no one, me included. Verify your own facts. Know the sources of the information you’re using to form your opinion.
And in the interests of better Canadian drug policy, do it soon.

1 comment:

j said...

It's not unlike the global warming denial experts funded by oil companies.

Just a thought--since it's tough to indent this might be a little more readable if you adopted the internet alternative of putting in a space between paragraphs.