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.