Dan­ger­ous side ef­fects

Iso­la­tion keeps drug users from seek­ing med­i­cal care.


Cape Bre­ton­ers need to be­come more com­pas­sion­ate if a gen­uine ef­fort to help drug users re­join so­ci­ety and be­come healthy again is go­ing to take place, says a so­ci­ol­o­gist who has been study­ing the im­pact that drug use has on peo­ple’s lives.

With about one drug over­dose daily and 600,000 nee­dles be­ing dis­trib­uted to in­tra­venous drug users ev­ery year, there’s no deny­ing that a drug cul­ture ex­ists in Cape Bre­ton. And peo­ple can die from drug use. But ac­cord­ing to so­ci­ol­o­gist Mar­garet Dech­man, there’s some­thing even more sin­is­ter hap­pen­ing, with drug users be­com­ing iso­lated into not seek­ing health care when they need it.

“We’re look­ing at how long do peo­ple de­lay be­fore they seek med­i­cal treat­ment be­cause we know from talk­ing to the healthcare prac­ti­tion­ers, by the time they get to the hos­pi­tal, things are of­ten re­ally bad, life-threat­en­ing-type bad,” said Dech­man. “So we need to know what’s go­ing on be­cause I find this is a ter­ri­ble thing but I get this all the time, and it’s like well, ‘ Yhey’re wast­ing taxpayers money. Their ac­cess­ing our health-care ser­vices is wast­ing tax pay­ers money.’ But if you’re re­ally con­cerned with taxpayers money, if they got the treat­ment up front, it wouldn’t cost nearly as much as it’s go­ing to cost when they hit emer­gency.

“They hit emer­gency with con­di­tions that emer­gency can’t deal with be­cause they be­come so ex­treme. It’s cost­ing a lot more in the long run. Even if you’re not com­pas­sion­ate about it, from a prag­matic point of view this is not good.”

Dech­man spe­cial­izes in so­cial ex­clu­sion and that’s ex­actly what she sees hap­pen­ing to peo­ple who use in­tra­venous drugs. While drugs can cer­tainly cause prob­lems, the big­ger is­sue emerg­ing is the iso­la­tion that keeps drug users from seek­ing med­i­cal at­ten­tion for what can be se­ri­ous health is­sues.

“The re­al­ity is, it’s like any­thing else, there are peo­ple who do bad things in all of our world,” said Dech­man. “The re­al­ity is, peo­ple who in­ject, the vast ma­jor­ity are good peo­ple who have had dif­fi­cult life cir­cum­stances so they turn to drugs as a way of es­cap­ing. But mean­while, they be­come painted with the brush, with what you hear as crim­i­nal ac­tiv­i­ties.”

Dech­man says all hu­mans thrive when they’re part of a group and drug users need to be­long as much as any­one else if they’re go­ing to over­come their prob­lems.

“They have to be able to go out in the sun­light with the rest of us.”

Dech­man will present her re­search at the James McCon­nell Li­brary on Thurs­day at 6:45 p.m. The study looks at 20 long-term in­tra­venous drug users over the age of 19 and was done in con­junc­tion with the Ally Cen­tre of Cape Bre­ton and Men­tal Health and Ad­dic­tions Ser­vices.


Mar­garet Dech­man, a so­ci­ol­o­gist at Cape Bre­ton Univer­sity, has been re­search­ing how in­tra­venous drug users may not be seek­ing med­i­cal care for what could be dan­ger­ous med­i­cal is­sues.

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