By Kaitlyn Mullin
“More people have died as result of the opioid crisis than they did in road safety and road deaths in Waterloo Region,” said Waterloo Regional Police Service’s Chief Bryan Larkin in a public service announcement featured on CTV in August. “It is the most complex public health crisis we have ever seen.”
We cannot stop addicts from consuming drugs, but as a region, we have the power to make drug consumption safer. We need to treat addicts with compassion and work with the problem, not against it. Marginalizing addicts will not solve the problem but will make it worse. Addiction is a mental health crisis and by making substance abusers feel like outcasts, we only drive them to use drugs more. Introducing more supervised injection service locations is needed to combat opioid consumption and steer addicts in the direction of a safer life.
The idea of safe injection sites has polarized community members on whether or not they should be implemented. In July 2018, 100 protesters and counter-protesters picketed outside of a proposed location for a safe injection site in Cambridge. Those who rallied against the site fear that it would increase the crime rates in the region.
In spite of the fact that many believe these facilities increase the crime rate due to an influx of addicts in an area, it has been proven to actually reduce it.
In a survey conducted by the Region of Waterloo Public Health, the community outcomes of supervised injection service locations, as identified by people who inject drugs, would result in crime reduction in the surrounding area by 45.9 per cent.
Introducing more safe injection sites in the region would also begin to clean the streets of public drug use. Waterloo Region Public Health Services surveyed 146 opioid drug users, and of those, 75.6 per cent have injected drugs in public and 38 per cent say they use in public more than 75 per cent of the time.
Waterloo Region has always taken pride in being a safe and welcoming community for families to reside in, but with public drug abuse, our children are being kept off those streets.
With addicts consuming drugs in public, more discarded needles are being found in public spaces. On Sept. 27, 2017, the Cambridge Times reported that Stefanie and Brian Messier’s toddler son was pricked by a used needle along the Grand River during an afternoon of fishing. The child was taken to the hospital where he received a hepatitis B vaccination and medication for potential exposure to HIV.
The opioid crisis affects more than just substance abusers. Discarded needles pose a health and safety threat to everyone in the region. A child should have the right to enjoy an afternoon of fishing with his family without risking his life and being exposed to drugs and disease.
Safe injection sites not only help clear the streets of discarded needles but also help lower the risk of diseases associated with using dirty needles. The survey conducted by Public Health Serviced revealed that 20.8 per cent of participants said they had injected themselves with needles previously used. By providing clean needles to addicts we help ensure that their drug consumption doesn’t leave them with a blood-borne disease.
It is up to the region to help combat the growing opioid crisis by ensuring the safety of both addicts and residents of the community. It is impossible to completely stop drug use, however, we can make it safer. Implementing safe injection sites helps combat the issues around opioid consumption without marginalizing addicts.