Today in nursing school we watched a section of the documentary film "Bevel Up". [Click here for to watch it and other related videos online.]
The above was shown to us to educate my class of Internationally Educated Nurses about how the 4 Pillars of Primary Health Care (Teams, Access, Information and Healthy Living) based on Canadian values drive the delivery of non-judgemental primary health care. As my Canadian nursing lecturer puts it, the issue is not drugs per se, but poverty*. Recognizing how the social determinants of health have a huge impact on the population's health outcome means that advocating for social justice is an important part of a Public Health Nurse's role.
*Note: There are rich drug addicts and poor drug addicts. There are drug addicts who are productive members of society (i.e. people who hold jobs -- think of some movie stars, Wall Street traders, etc) and those who are "cast aways". For those addicts who have income to support their habit, the effects of their addiction are "hidden" from the public. Thus the issues that the public often associate with drug addiction are really issues related to poverty.
Indeed, many years ago in Singapore, I used to have a room-mate who was a drug user. I do not know which drugs she used exactly -- my guess is that it was probably "recreational drugs". She ended up being my room-mate because of some "emergency" issues which led her to turn to my landlady (who was a long-time friend of hers) for help. The fact that she is rich meant that her drug use and its impact was not seen by the public. Years later she "cleaned up" and started running her mother's business empire which she is slated to inherit.
Personally, I know of some Canadian friends/acquaintances who use hash (i.e. smoke pot). A few even offered/recommended their stuff for me to try, reassuring me that it is not addictive; but I turned down their offer anyway. That said, it is easier for me to remain neutral as a friend since my value is that "my friends are responsible for the consequences of the choices they make in their lives" and I am not affected in any way by their personal lifestyle choices. I wonder how I would react if that happened in a professional context.
I realize that it is easier for me to be non-judgemental towards the girls living in a teenage shelter that I used to tutor as a volunteer back in the 1990's Singapore. I listened their stories and learned about life through them; I recall one was involved with gangs by age 13. Back then, I recognized that at that age, they probably landed up where they were because of a lack of guidance (many came from dysfunctional families) and their socio-economic background.
I do not think that I will choose to be a "Street Nurse" at this moment. I do not think that I am able to be that non-judgemental as yet, given my background. I recognize that I am challenged on my personal values in this topic -- I can imagine myself as an ER nurse (Emergency Room) getting angry at drug addicts who repeatedly utilize health care resources that could otherwise be spent on those who are more motivated to improve their lives. That said, I am very happy to watch and learn from the above documentary. I feel that being introduced to Canadian values and understanding how those values guide the provision of health care (e.g. by examining ethics in a professional nursing context) is a very practical and valuable part of the GNIE (Graduate Nurse, Internationally Educated) programme.