Monday, July 22, 2013

Five minutes of research could have spared us this uninformed prattle on InSite

   It almost felt good to experience the righteous rage rising in me this morning when I read that uninformed column by Licia Corbella in the Calgary Herald trying to draw a link between the overdose death of actor Cory Monteith and Vancouver's supervised injection site. I'd forgotten how much I love to hate lazy, ignorant commentary, so deliciously wide open to being torn apart by anyone with the slightest understanding of the issue at hand.
    How long would it have taken for Corbella to have gone to the Insite web site and learned more about the services, the clients, the lives saved - five minutes, maybe? Ah, but she didn't want facts. She wanted to make her very strange case that Cory Monteith overdosed because he was in Vancouver, at a hotel close to the "cancerous lesion" that is the Downtown Eastside, and that he might still be alive today if he'd had the good sense to visit a different Canadian city.
    Reasoning that the Glee actor surely wouldn't have brought drugs across the border, Corbella writes that he either bought them in Vancouver or "had a gofer do it for him by visiting InSite..." Can she possibly believe that a project as controversial as one that helps people with heroin addictions inject safely would risk it all by selling heroin to anyone, let alone a celebrity's "gofer?"
   "Proponents of safe injection sites argue that such harm-reduction strategies save lives and that’s inarguably true. After all, if an injection drug user overdoses in the safe injection site, then a nurse is on hand to offer assistance and call an ambulance. This has happened numerous times," writes Corbella. (True, Licia - 1,418 times to be precise. But then, you would have known that if you'd visited InSite's web site.)
  "But no one ever asks how many people have died of drug overdoses who use the safe injection site as a legally safe place to procure drugs," she goes on to say.
    Well, Licia, that's because you can't buy drugs at InSite, legally or otherwise. And while I hate to belabour a point, you would have known that had you bothered to do one damn bit of research into any of this.
    Sometime in the 1990s, it appears that Corbella met a sex worker in Toronto who was unable to find heroin one night. Corbella has concluded from this incident that this must mean drugs are very difficult to buy in any city other than Vancouver.
    "Would Cory Monteith still be alive had he been visiting Halifax, Toronto or Calgary instead of Vancouver? In my view, it’s highly likely," she writes.
    That is such a profoundly weird thing to say that in fairness, we should probably just presume Corbella was feeling the pressure to pad out her scant column and threw that thought in at the last minute just to bump up the word count.
     But if she truly believes that all of Canada's drug use is concentrated solely in one city in one province, perhaps she should browse through the RCMP report on illicit drug use and note that in fact, it's fairly evenly distributed from coast to coast. 
    As for heroin specifically, port cities like Vancouver have traditionally had more access to it, but that hasn't stopped the proliferation of heroin substitutes being widely available in other cities. One Toronto hospital says it sees 300 overdose deaths a year from oxycontin alone, the prescription drug known as "hillbilly heroin." I suspect poor Cory Monteith could have found what he was looking for regardless of where he was that night.
    Were Licia Corbella just some wacky blogger throwing her wildly uninformed opinions around, no big deal. There are a million of them out there. We're all going to have to be much more careful about where we get our information from, because we're falling headfirst into a scandal-sheet world where anyone with an internet connection can represent themselves as a "news source."
    But Corbella is the editorial page editor for the Calgary Herald. I stand on guard for freedom of expression, but that's not what we're talking about here. This is about a disturbing level of factual error. It scares me to think that the editorial page editor for a major daily newspaper wrote something so careless, sloppy and inaccurate, and scares me even more that her bosses just stepped out of the way and let it run.
    As for the Downtown Eastside being a "cancerous lesion," I was there in April at the Army and Navy sale and was struck by how much better the neighbourhood looked. May Corbella and her family never have to experience the poverty, addiction, disability and trauma that have created the DTES, but in the meantime she'd do well to open up those half-shut eyes of hers and see the cheery, resilient community that exists against all odds on those tough streets. 

27 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this, Jody--you always write with integrity and passion.

The Mom said...

My son, who managed to develop a drug addiction despite never having lived in ANY Vancouver neighbourhood, ran away for one night when he was 17. He had just enough money to end up on the DTES. There an older, wiser gentlemen shared the warmth of his fire and whatever he had for food, and counselled my son that 'if he had a home to go back to, he should get back there as fast as he could.'

Would that we all lived in Corbella's simple world, where bad things on happen in prescribed drug/poverty ghettos, and no one ever makes a dangerous choice anywhere else. Foolish doesn't begin to cover her bigotry, ignorance, and lack of compassion.

This mom would far rather picture a world filled with men like the one my son met on the DTES than women like Corbella.

Roger Traviss said...

Well Said Jody!

Roger T. (Ex Isabelle Reader Theatre, Victoria)

P Jean Oliver said...

I've been avoiding this story because just the thought of such an abuse of power (by her bosses at the Calgary Herald) sickens me. This story ran, in my opinion, because they, like so many others, treat people battling addiction, homelessness, poverty and so forth as expendable. Not even worth 5 minutes, as you put it so well Jody. (Can you hear my teeth grinding from there?) ...a question, is there an avenue for complaining? If I send a letter to the Herald editor, not for publishing necessarily but to air my disgust and disappointment, would that make any difference in the next time they decide to write about addiction?

Anonymous said...

unfortunately, she never once in the original article said you could buy drugs AT in site, but from the people that USE in site, which is a world of difference, so by that yardstick your no better than her at reporting, since your basing your article on something that wasn't said in the first place.

Jody Paterson said...

To the anonymous poster above - sorry, I can't let that comment go. Here are the exact words from her column, from 3 different parts of her piece:

"It's unlikely that the 31-year-old would have risked bringing hard drugs across the border from his home in the United States, so it’s safe to assume he either picked some up himself or had a gofer do it for him by visiting InSite, the government-sponsored and funded safe injection site at 139 East Hastings."

"But no one ever asks how many people have died of drug overdoses who use the safe injection site as a legally safe place to procure drugs."

"InSite is well meaning. But the time has long passed for an independent investigator to really study how many people are using it as a gateway into hard drug use and a legally “risk free” way to procure an illegal substance."

The writer is clearly saying that the drugs are available at InSite.

Anonymous said...

yes , she clearly is.

daxieowner said...

I've missed your column, Jody. You do your research and you put your heart into anything you write.
Needless to say, I support all you've said in this article.
Hope all is going well with you. Cheers, Ruth McV

Norm Farrell said...

One of the dirty secrets of our city is that the illegal drug trade has substantial presence in night spots of Vancouver. Not grody hangouts of the DTES, but high end places on the west side, Yaletown and downtown. Not only are many staffers living in the fast lane but some behind-the-scenes investors have questionable ties to trafficking operations. The restaurant/bar trade has long attracted people interested in money laundering.

Personally, I doubt Monteith or the youthful celebrity chef who died a while back went anywhere near the DTES. They didn't have to; the drugs were (and are) readily available in their nighttime playgrounds.

If Postmedia had any commitment to investigative journalism, they'd be doing in depth examination of how substance abuse issues belong to all classes of society.

kim said...

Just another reason why I ended my subscription to the Herald.

Anonymous said...

All that for Corbella?

Haven't seen this then...

A report by the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS on harm reduction programs and Insite released last month is not science; it’s public relations.
http://www.vancouversun.com/Little+evidence+harm+reduction+reduces+harm+more+than+good/8679087/story.html

David Berner is the executive director of the Drug Prevention Network of Canada.

Marilyn Erickson said...

Predictably there has been a backlash of public opinion against Ms Corbella and her ignorant comments linking Vancouver and Insite with Corey Monteith's death. She obviously didn't learn much from her 'working girl' friend who she saw off to Montreal only to hear from again when the girl was desperately seeking heroin there and thought she could arrange for it to be delivered. That's addiction baby! Its called desperation, and regardless of what she knows or thinks she knows, any addict can buy junk or a synthetic substitute almost anywhere in any populated area, if they have $ and the transportation they need to get to the dealer. Someone of Monteith's means and experience in the world of addiction would have no trouble getting what he needed in almost any bar or club too, and don't tell me you can't bring heroin through the border....it's done frequently at every border crossing and also in airports, in personal luggage! Who says celebs don't get star treatment either, having almost any need met, by someone, sometime, usually for money or the buzz of just being a celeb bud. I'm shocked that an Editor of a major paper, and former journalist, could be so vicious and judgemental about the downtown east side and the safe injection site too! It's already saved nearly 1500 lives....maybe Mr Monteith should have gone there to use. He'd still be alive!

Anonymous said...

Well put, Jody. I wrote back to Corbella on the weekend, and have yet to hear anything. I'm not holding my breath :) but I hope she's taken to heart the idea that research is an important part (a responsibility) of being a journalist.

If you want to read my letter, it's here.

Shannon

Anonymous said...

David Berner's opinion piece on Insite and harm reduction is about as fact-filled as Corbella's column. For a dissection of the "researched report" authored by the Network's "expert on addiction, Colin Mangham,check out http://www.canada.com/components/print.aspx?id=fad6bd9a-7c00-47aa-a549-e4e0376603c7
This article by Peter McKnight ran in the Vancouver sun in 2007.

Jody Paterson said...

Thanks, Anonymous No. 2, for the link to that excellent 2007 piece by Peter McKnight. As always, Peter makes his case with passion AND facts.

Anonymous said...

FYI Jody, in case you haven't heard. Since Monday has changed over to a monthly mag, Victoria Daily is poised currently absorbing SW ads, however...(deceased) Annabelle Black's request that Heath and Support Info always run alongside ads is not being honoured anymore. The publisher of Monday is getting in the way of intelligent thinking and decided not to include any said ads in Monday Monthly - only in Victoria Daily - and at that, is not making sure, Peers tel numbers etc also appear, on the page. In light of current SCOC litigation, it is politically incorrect not to include resource info. Space should be donated by Black Press to include these resource numbers as that was David Black's wife's wish.

RossK said...

More on the 'ladder' of scientific peer review, as it pertains to publication, and those that have slammed papers published about Insite in the past (at least one of whom, according to Mr. Berner, has made comments on the the latest 'report' from the 'Drug Prevention Network') can be found...

...Here.

.

Jacqueline said...

Corbella's article is ignorant and lazy journalism - no doubt about it. But just look at the 947 comments after it and the discussion / debate that is going on! That people are discussing this issue is fantastic.

With the social stigma and the "It will never happen to me or anyone i love" attitudes that affect so many - any discussion regarding this issue has to be a good thing.

I recently completed a research paper on harm reduction. I find it telling that Corbella does not mention anything in relation to the rates of blood borne diseases in Vancouver compared with the rest of Canada. This surely should have been a topic at least touched on in such an article.

Re Insite - it is my goal to one day soon visit DTES and see the work that they do with my own eyes. Perhaps Corbella and her credibility would benefit from such a visit?

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