BY MELISSA HORTON
The growing opioid crisis has been a major concern for Cambridge residents for some time now. The problem has become so rampant, with so many needles left lying around the city and weekly overdoses, that safe injection sites have been proposed as a solution by public health officials.
Downtown Kitchener and the Galt core of Cambridge have been recommended as spots for safe injection sites, which have left many residents worried for their safety. It’s not through lack of sympathy that residents are against these sites, it’s because of an increasing sense of danger.
According to Statistics Canada, the crime rate rose two per cent from 2015 to 2016 while drug offences rose by three per cent. These spikes in crime have grown alongside the growing rate in opioid use in the region.
While safe injection sites do not always directly correlate with a rise in crime, they will cause the downtown core to be a higher traffic area, an area populated by those under the influence of drugs.
Cambridge Mayor Doug Craig has been vocal about his lack of support for safe injection sites in the downtown core leaving some outraged. However, many of those in favour of the sites do not live near the downtown core or deal with the things the more urban residents deal with on a daily basis. Not only would a safe injection site in the downtown core be a bad idea, it simply would exacerbate the issue.
It should also be noted that Craig did not flat out reject the idea of a safe injection site. In fact, he proposed a better idea. He suggested Cambridge Memorial Hospital as a location, which seems better suited considering it is a hospital that could provide care in a matter of seconds and monitor the patients for a longer period of time. In a Feb. 28 interview with CTV News, the mayor is quoted as saying, “I believe it’s important to have some sort of facility in place to support people.”
Although the idea of safe injection sites remains controversial, it is clear that the mayor and concerned residents sympathize but that doesn’t mean their concerns should be overlooked.
This issue is not a question of whether we should help those struggling with addiction, but about when and where. It is unfair to overlook the concerns of residents who simply want to enjoy their neighbourhoods. Both sides need to be considered and having Cambridge Memorial Hospital as the location for a safe injection site seems to be the fairest and safest option.
One response to “Injection site better elsewhere”
The crime rate rose in the absence of SISs. Drug offences rose because police are cracking down on dealers with the advent of fentanyl. Criminalizing addiction has never worked. Studies on SISs in 9 countries have shown that they do not increase crime and that they reduce public drug use and needle litter, problems that Cambridge is already experiencing. They do not “exacerbate the issue” – they were specifically designed, and have been shown time and time again, to help alleviate said problems.
Studies have also shown that users won’t walk more than 10-15 minutes to attend a SIS, which is why putting one where the biggest problems are – downtown Kitchener and downtown Galt – is important. In order for them to work, they need to be used. Users won’t start “congregating” downtown – they are already there, whether people realize it or not. I’d rather run into opiate users than drunks; opiates make you sleepy and calm – alcohol turns you into an idiot.
I’m not sure where you are getting the claim that “many” supporters don’t live in downtown Kitchener or Cambridge/south Galt. Many supporters do live in these areas. Just because Cambridge residents are the loudest opponents, doesn’t mean there aren’t people who aren’t making their voices heard who are in favour of SISs. Shame and ignorance was hugely present at the public meetings – of course former and current users would be fearful of “outing” themselves. There are also plenty of street-involved users who could be helped by SISs but they don’t have time to advocate for them when they are trying to find their next meal or place to sleep.
I actually like the idea of a SIS in a hospital, however, I don’t know whether a hospital would have the room or resources to hold such a site. Plus, many users have had terrible experiences at hospitals because doctors and nurses still discriminate against them and treat users as second-class citizens. SISs need to be run by organizations and harm reduction workers already trusted by the using community. But Cambridge Council banning SISs altogether before site selection has even begun is ridiculous. They need to let Public Health do their job, look at some potential sites, and then debate whether or not they are acceptable.
Nobody is overlooking the concerns of residents but residents ARE overlooking the research and evidence that shows their concerns to be unwarranted. And what about the users – this is their community too and they are struggling every day to stay alive. I think people’s lives are more important than some (unfounded) fears about users potentially “congregating” in the downtown area or scaring shoppers away from businesses.