Most back safer injection site in Ottawa, poll finds

More than half of Ottawans polled back a safe injection site downtown for intravenous drug users with the young, affluent and well educated most likely to be behind the plan.

The numbers are in line with results from Canada’s biggest city, where a drive is also underway to establish safe injection sites aimed at preventing overdoses and disease.

“There is clearly a sentiment in urban centres in favour of harm reduction over sanctions and enforcement,” Forum Research president Lorne Bozinoff said. “Vancouver already has InSite, and Toronto and Ottawa are both contemplating similar centres. “These results bode well for a successful outcome.”

In a random sampling of 890 Ottawa voters, 54 per cent approved plans for a safe injection site, 37% disapproved and 9% did not have an opinion.

The Sandy Hill Community Health Centre wants to add a supervised injection service to the needle exchange, counselling and health programs it already offers about 700 injection drug users and plans to apply for a drug-law exemption in the fall.

Current legislation that governs exemptions requires a letter of support from the city and the police chief.

Mayor Jim Watson is opposed to plans for a safe injection site, calling for funding to be invested in drug treatment – although proponents counter that supervised injection sites help keep addicts alive long enough to get them into treatment.

Police Chief Charles Bordeleau, meanwhile, said he won’t back such a site until he’s seen a plan to prevent crime in the area where it would be set up.

The people in Ottawa most likely to support a safe injection site – with about two-thirds support – include young adults, people who have used marijuana, those with post-graduate education and those with incomes of $80,000 to $100,000.

Two-thirds of provincial Liberals and more than three-quarters of provincial New Democrats support safe injection sites.

Against are two-thirds of provincial Progressive Conservatives, more than half of those with a high school education or less and nearly half of the oldest adults.

Homeowners, people who have never smoked marijuana, and those with incomes in the $20,000 to $40,000 range are also more likely to be opposed.

The findings back what Catherine Hacksel of the Campaign for Safer Consumption Sites in Ottawa found during canvassing residents.

“The vast majority we get to sign our petition within minutes of talking to us,” she said, adding that people without a personal connection may be swayed by the argument that offering addicts addict to prevention saves health-care costs in the long run.

But health-care decisions should be made by following the evidence and using compassion – not making sure everyone agrees, she said.

“I hope it’s inevitable but it’s also about political will.”

By the numbers

Approve a safe injection site:

  • 54% of sampled voters
  • 58% of mothers with children under 18
  • 64% of young adults, people with post-graduate education, people who have used marijuana
  • 65% of people in the $80,000 to $100,000 bracket
  • 66% of provincial Liberals
  • 77% of New Democrats

Opposed to a safe injection site:

  • 37% of sampled voters
  • 41% of homeowners
  • 44% of those who have never smoked marijuana
  • 48% of the oldest age group
  • 45% of people with incomes of $20,000 to $40,000
  • 54% with a high school education or less
  • 66% of provincial Progressive Conservatives

By Megan Gillis
Source: Ottawa Citizen