Point • Counter-point: Safe injection sites

Point: Safe injection sites good for society

Supervised injection sites are beneficial to both those who use them, as well as the communities in which they reside. The Supreme Court of Canada recently ruled against the Conservative government’s attempt to close Vancouver’s supervised injection site, providing an extraordinary victory for the continued use of these facilities.

The issue of supervised injections facilities has been largely debated in recent years. First instituted under the Liberal government in 2003, Vancouver’s facility (the only one of its kind in North America) was exempt from federal drug laws. In 2008, the Conservative government initiated attempts to close the site. Despite their efforts, the British Columbia Supreme Court and the British Columbia Court of Appeal ruled in favour of the facility. The ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada has, for now, ended the Conservative’s crusade against safe injection.
Now you may be asking yourself, why would the government allow money to be spent on a supervised injection system? The answer is surprisingly simple. Supervised injection sites help everyone: the drug users, those in the surrounding community and taxpayers.

Firstly, safe injection sites provide drug users with security. These sites provide clean, sterilized needles and pipes for users. In doing so, these centres help to eliminate the spread of HIV and other blood-transmitted diseases.

Secondly, safe injection sites save lives as overdoses are a common occurrence amongst drug users. Safe injection facilities provide trained professionals who know how to deal with such cases. In the over 1,500 overdose cases occurring on Insite’s watch, there have been no deaths.

Thirdly, safe injection sites benefit those in the surrounding community. By getting drug use off the streets, these sites remove needles and other dangerous paraphernalia from public view.

It also seeks to decrease the prevalence of “street-drug culture.” By taking drug addicts into centres like Insite, trained professionals can focus on rehabilitation, ensuring that these addicts are not spending time on the streets.

Finally, safe injection sites benefit the taxpayers. Many people would argue that taxpayers are simply subsidizing drug use and that this is a waste of money. This argument is incredibly short sighted. While there is a portion of the healthcare budget which goes towards safe injection sites, in reality it is a small price to pay.

The purchase of a needle is relatively little, whereas the treatment for blood transmitted diseases costs taxpayers much more.

In the long term, safe injection sites are a preventative measure, not a burden.

Those who oppose safe injection sites will argue that they do little to help drug users and simply facilitate drug users.

This is misguided. In 2007, the Vancouver facility collaborated with a nearby detox facility. In 2010, this clinic provided nearly 500 drug users with the necessary treatment to kick the habit, providing them with a new chance at life.
In addition to this, another 5,000 referrals were made to other various social and health agencies.

There seems to be a sentiment amongst the Conservatives that punishment is the right way to deal with drug users — that punitive measures outweigh rehabilitative ones. Still, I’m not willing to give up on these Canadians.

I would rather pay more taxes to help them shed their drug habits in a safe way instead of increasing the probability that they will die a slow, painful death from HIV.

The verdict handed down from the Supreme Court should be a message to all provinces stating that supervised injection clinics are beneficial to everyone.
I hope cities like Toronto and Montreal take advantage of this verdict and quickly open additional clinics for the good of the users, the community and the taxpayers.

Alex Reinhart

Counterpoint: Safe injection sites send the wrong message

When the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Insite on Sept. 30, it chose to favour a misguided approach to helping those with addiction. I appreciate the fact that the court was trying to do what was best for addicts, but the decision is not beneficial in caring for heroin addicts.

For the addict, assistance is needed to get off of heroin and stay clean. Some of the services available from Insite do offer these things, but these services were not being challenged by the government. Rather, the government was trying to enforce a pre-existing law that would forbid Insite from allowing addicts to shoot heroin on their premises, a program that Insite uses on the grounds that it is safer than unsupervised injections.

While taking a shot of heroin under medical supervision is safer than doing so unsupervised, it should not be encouraged. Instead of turning a blind eye while addicts feed their addictions, we should actually do something about it, such as using the criminal court system to force them to detoxify and seek further treatment. As Canadian lawyer Gwen Landolt has noted, Sweden’s courts force addicts to undergo treatment and their program has been successful in minimizing drug-related problems in society. Imitating the Swedes might be a better proposition than just letting people do their drugs.

The Supreme Court’s endorsement of safe injection sites could have negative consequences for the rest of Canada since similar facilities may begin to open outside of Vancouver. Doing so could attract more addicts and crime to those cities hosting injection sites – a fear that some local authorities, such as Ottawa’s police chief, have expressed.

Furthermore, people may begin to take the philosophy of accommodating addicts for their safety to its logical extreme by providing heroin to them.
This may seem unlikely, but after the Supreme Court decision, Dr. Julio Montaner, director of the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, remarked that a program of heroin distribution ought to be given serious consideration on the grounds that it will ensure that addicts have safer heroin.
If it is legitimate for Insite, which receives funding from the provincial government in British Columbia, to provide the means with which one can inject heroin (such as needles and facilities), why stop them from giving addicts the substance they want to inject?

If risk reduction justifies the way Insite accommodates addicts now, then there seems to be little reason to suppose that it would be wrong for them to provide untainted heroin.

All supporters of Insite who recognize that it is wrong for the government to allow, or even subsidize, heroin distribution to addicts, ought to ask why they support some forms of accommodation but not others.

Finally, those who think that Insite’s controversial program has been effective based on the reports cited by the Supreme Court should note that such studies are not universally accepted. REAL Women of Canada and the Drug Prevention Network critiqued a study done by supporters of Insite that claimed that deaths caused by overdose decreased by over one-third between 2001 and 2007.
The critique, however, exposed that in 2001, there was an unusually high amount of heroin in Vancouver and that there was an increase in deaths caused by overdose between 2002 and 2007 (Insite opened in 2003). This raises questions as to how much of a role Insite actually played in reducing overdose deaths.

The Supreme Court has adopted a false sense of compassion and is using it to support a program that does not care for addicts but one that is actually destructive to Canadian communities.

Hayden Starczala

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