BY TAYLOR PACE
In the middle of an opioid epidemic, safe injection sites are becoming a real possibility in Waterloo Region, and we need to stop resisting them.
Although regional councillors have expressed strong support for the sites, they have launched an anonymous online survey to get a consensus on whether the area wants and needs them, before making any firm proposals.
Like most drug-related topics, safe injection sites are controversial, but they shouldn’t be. They are merely a short-term solution to the long-term, complex drug problem the region has been plagued with. The go to argument is that safe injection sites normalize and even promote drug use, jeopardizing the safety of the residents in the community. But this argument is fueled by stigma and fails to provide an alternative solution to the problem.
The sites would provide things like clean syringes, cookers, filters and tourniquets for users to safely inject themselves. Nurses would be onsite to monitor users, preventing overdoses and helping those who want to seek treatment.
In November, a rally was held at the Cambridge City Hall to encourage the government to act on the epidemic.
The region is littered with used syringes and regularly has drug-related disturbances. Businesses have even begun to flee downtown Galt for safer streets.
More importantly, there were 529 overdose calls in the region from January 2017 to September alone, almost 50 per cent more than the same period in 2016 and 135 per cent more than 2015.
By installing these sites, the safety of both drug users and the neighbourhood would increase. Of course, the municipality should tread carefully, but safe injection sites are the most feasible and immediate solution.
They would be modelled after Vancouver’s safe injection program, Insite: the first of its kind in North America. Since it opened in 2003 it has been the subject of numerous studies and seen tremendous results.
The facility has over 600 injections every day, but no one has ever died from one due to the onsite responders. With counsellors and social workers available, studies found that those who used Insite are 30 per cent more likely to go into detox than those who don’t.
Studies published in publications like The Lancet and the New England Journal of Medicine also found that safe injection sites do not increase crime rates or drug-related litter, contrary to public belief. Not only that, but in 2015 the neighbourhood saw a 25 per cent decline in overdose deaths. That alone should be a selling point for Waterloo Region residents.
Our primary concern should be saving lives, but if you truly want a cleaner Cambridge, you should want safe injection sites.
Drug addiction is a disease, and those inflicted are going to use, with or without a safe injection site. Is it better to condemn users to unsafely using in the street, or should we provide a safe service while lowering overdose deaths and keeping the streets clean?
2 responses to “Stop rejecting safe injection sites”
Thank you for this timely piece Taylor .
While the city does have the Community Outreach Task Force in place,I fear some members already are adamantly opposed to S.I.S .
As members of a task force,I do not beieve their personal feelings should be aired publicly as they have been on A Clean Cambridge and in the local paper .
I agree, Joe! I understand residents fear SISs will cause harm to their community and affect them, the evidence simply doesn’t support their concerns. As Taylor stated, public drug use and needle litter is reduced, while crime, or “public safety”, does not increase. The only people who will truly be affected by SISs will be users and their families and friends.
Public opinion should not have a say in health policy. We keep hearing from residents instead of experts and researchers who can show them that their concerns are not warranted. As Maia Szalavitz, an expert on addiction, has stated, “Inaccurate assumptions are rarely questioned and ignorance masquerading as expertise thrives”, dominating public discourse.