A new report just released by the University of Toronto encourages the cities to consider building safe injection sites similar to the one currently operating in Vancouver. Advocates for safe injection sites argue that they save lives, reduce sharing of needles and other equipment, prevent the spread of diseases such as HIV, produces reduction in public injecting, neighbourhood litter (of needles), provides a safe disposal for needles, and that they increase access to treatment for people who are marginalized. Critics argue that the sites encourage drug use, and that the money spent on such facilities would be better used for drug treatment centres.
These arguments critics come up with are a common misconception about the safe injection sites in Canada. They are not simply places for people to go so they can just shoot up. Before they are allowed to shoot up they must speak to nurses, and health care professionals about the potential risks of the drugs they are using, they must address their mental health issues with a counsellor, and they receive information on drug rehab centres in their areas.
There were six reccomendations provided in the report about establishing these safe injection sites:
- Both Toronto and Ottawa would Benefit from Implementation of Supervised Injection Facilities.
- The Optimal Model for a Supervised Injection Facility is a Fixed Facility that is Integratedwithin an Existing Organization
- A Strong Evaluation Plan is anEssential Component of anyImplementation Plan.
- There is Insufficiency Evidence toSupport a Recommendation toImplement a Supervised Smoking Facility
- A Supervised Injection Facilityshould have Clearly Established Rules.
- The Process to Establisha Supervised InjectionFacility Should be Part of aComprehensive Drug Strategy
All of this said, it will be much harder to set up such a site in Toronto, and Ottawa. In Vancouver drug use is pretty much contained to the east side and as such the centre went up on the east side. However, in Toronto and Ottawa drug use is spread out and not as contained therefore advocates will undoubtedly run into the NIMBY issue (not in my back yard), and even possibly the NOTE issue (Not Over There Either). This is because people are not going to want these safe injection sites anywhere near their neighbourhoods, or anywhere they might possibly go in the vicinity of one day.
Personally I think the push back to the safe injection sites shows the ignorance of some people. We’ve stigmatized drug use, and labelled the user as a criminal and therefore we, as a society, would be perfectly OK if they OD’d in a ditch, or back alley somewhere. But god forbid we set up a facility where they could go to safely get their fix, and possibly get into the appropriate drug rehab program.
Besides, I think it is pretty clear the war on drugs is an epic failure. If we can somehow contain the situation, reduce the risk of spreading disease, and help some addicts in the process why wouldn’t we have these sites? I mean you people do realize that alcohol is legal and causes just as many problems as drugs… right? And in regards to cannabis, I would argue that the consequences we see from alcohol is worse.
Think about this: a 2002 study, cited in the Safer Streets and Community Act (more commonly known as the omnibus bill, or Bill C-10) stated that substance abuse cost Canadians $39.8 billion. Tobacco accounted for $17 billion (42.7%), alcohol accounted for $14 billion (36.6%), illegal drugs for $8 billion (20.7%), health care costs amounted to $8.8 billion (22.1%), and the cost of law enforcement to deal with this was $5 billion (13.6%). So, illegal drugs cause half as many issues as Tobacco, and almost half as many issues as alcohol? Even if we legalized drugs, and had a 50% increase in drug related costs it would still be less then the amount of money tobacco costs us yearly? Interesting.
I encourage everyone to start doing some research on this issue before screaming about safe havens for ‘criminals’.
Insite, which is located in Vancouver, is the only legal safe injection site in North America. Insite doesn’t provide any drugs but since 2003 it has been operating on a special exemption under the Controlled drugs and substances act to give addicts a safe place to inject their drugs. Insite has been the center of a number of studies, and controversy, since 2003 and has been proven to have benefits to society. The supreme court of Canada made their decision based on the benefits to the community and drug users in Vancouver. A reduction in public injecting, neighbourhood litter (of needles), provides a safe disposal for needles, and syringe sharing (which decreases the spread of disease), and an increase in the use of addiction treatment. There has been several studies also carried out looking at the cost benefit part of Insite. Some of the results included: $6 million in savings on HIV, and hepatitis drugs, and overdose rates dropped in Vancouver. Medical staff are present to provide addiction treatment, mental health assistance, and assistance in the event of an overdose.
Last week the supreme court of Canada made a ruling which could prove to be problematic for the conservatices ‘tough on crime’ agenda. In a
9-0 decision the supreme court of Canada ruled that closing Insite would be against the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, specifically the right to “security of the person”. Canada’s only safe injection site would remain open. Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin explained: “The effect of denying the services of Insite to the population it serves and the correlative increase in the risk of death and disease to injection drug users is grossly disproportionate to any benefit that Canada might derive from presenting a uniform stance on the possession of narcotics.”
This decision makes me wonder if the crack pipe program in Alberta could have held out. The crack pipe program began running in Calgary in November of 2008. The Alberta Health Region was handing out ‘crack pipe kits’. Each kit contained a glass pipe, mouthpiece, cleaning rod, and screens. The argument was similar to Insite’s argument. It was a way to prevent the spread of disease and bring addicts into contact with health care providers that could assist them. In these ways it was very similar to Insite, but the Alberta health region cracked when they began to feel pressure from the police associations who argued that such programs do nothing except encourage drug use. Given the exemption that Insite received, it could be argued that the Alberta crack pipe program falls under the same category and should also be allowed to operate without fear of prosecution on the parts of the health region officials.
What is important to remember about Insite, or even the crack pipe program in Calgary, is that neither of these places was a place where drug addicts could just go do their thing and leave. Like the crack pipe program had, Insite always has health professionals there to speak with addicts about: counseling options, risks to them, as well as address mental health issues with them and the dangers of drug addiction.
The war on drugs has been nothing short of a failure in the United States, and arguably, in some cases, a waste of money. The United States spends $15 billion annually to try and control drugs. Recently an International panel, the Global Commission on Drug Policy, declared the war on drugs a catastrophic failure. The report had what some would say are some common sense recommendations.
First, don’t treat drug addicts as criminals. The report argues that it is not feasible or safe to treat all the drug addicts in the world as criminals. First because it just simply costs too much money, and secondly because with injection users their is just too high of a risk of the spread of disease. Other countries who have similar programs to our Insite have also reported lower rates of the spread of disease such as HIV, and hepititis saving lives and tax payer dollars (as the tax payer has to front the bill, or at least part of it, for medications to treat these diseases).
Second, don’t waste your time with small time drug dealers. I won’t go into this one. I personally think it speaks for itself.
Third, Decriminalize or legalize certain drugs to undercut organized crime. I can’t say this enough. Legalize weed already. A study done in the US points out that legalizing weed would inject $6 billion into the US economy every year. Studies out of other countries who have decriminalized some drugs have shown that with the legalization of possession, and the means to obtain some drugs in a safe legal manner criminal suppliers became less visible. I am not saying that all organized crime would go away, but at the same time organized crime will never go away. Another interesting side effect of the decriminalization of some drugs could be decreased use. why? Because addicts could seek help without fear of prosecution. This study, done by the Beckley Foundation, on the decriminalization of drugs in Portugal looked at over all drug use and found: the use of weed increased, the use of drug treatment increased (due largely to early intervention), there was a decrease in heroin use, and there was a large reduction in drug related deaths. Of course, if I still haven’t convinced you. I’ll just say: remember prohibition?
Canada needs to take a hard look at statistics, and studies given the new policies that the conservative government wishes to pass before the end of the year. The idea is to get tough on drugs. Canadians should be looking to their neighbours to the south and asking some tough questions. It is no secret that the drug policies is costing Americans billions every year, and that the prisons are so overcrowded that some states, such as California, have had to release non violent criminals to ease the pressure on the system. I am not saying lets legalize heroin I am just saying lets not be stupid about this. Portugal has had success because they implemented education programs, treatment centers, and addicts didn’t have to worry about prosecution. Getting addicts clean from drugs should be a priority. No one wants to do drugs. People don’t wake up one morning and say to themselves “hmmm I think I am going to get addicted to Meth today”. This program has proved effective, and it allows users to come into contact with health professionals. It could be the first step. Until we have better programs implemented this is one way to ensure that needles and other drug related paraphernalia is disposed of appropriately. But more importantly it has been proven to save lifes.