Another reason to support supervised injection sites - Ottawa Citizen Editorial

To those still unmoved by the proven harm-reduction benefits of supervised drug injection sites, perhaps the conclusion of a new study published in the journal Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention and Policy will have more appeal: the sites could actually save taxpayer dollars. The research provides yet another reason to support a proposed clinic here in Ottawa and others elsewhere.

In his peer-reviewed paper, Simon Fraser University’s Ehsan Jozaghi suggests health-care savings of $5 million — a number associated with the prevention of an estimated nine HIV infections and 88 hepatitis C infections from dirty needles — would more than make up for the $4-million cost of operating two Ottawa clinics. In fact, he argues, the savings would probably be higher because the clinics would also reduce other infection rates and overdose deaths.

And yet there is still only one legally sanctioned supervised injection site operating in North America — Vancouver’s Insite — which had to go all the way to the Supreme Court to protect its right to exist in the face of opposition from the federal Conservative government. Bureaucratic roadblocks have so far prevented four proposed clinics from opening in Montreal, and Mayor Jim Watson and Ottawa police Chief Charles Bordeleau have not supported the creation of sites here.

As politicians continue to treat addiction as a crime issue rather than a health issue to suit their ideological leanings, or cater to NIMBYs who refuse to accept that drug use is going to occur in their neighbourhoods with or without the clinics (or that the clinics actually provide an opportunity to direct users toward resources that help combat addiction), people are dying. Montreal has seen a huge uptick in heroin overdose deaths this summer — exactly the type of fatalities Insite staff have been able to prevent in B.C.

“If we had supervised injection sites in Montreal, we would have avoided a certain number of these deaths,” Dr. Carole Morissette of the city’s Public Health Department told the Montreal Gazette in July.

The Supreme Court, which ruled on Insite nearly four years ago after weighing all the evidence, found that “Insite saves lives. Its benefits have been proven. There has been no discernible negative impact on the public safety and health objectives of Canada during its eight years of operation.”

Said Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson at the time: “Addiction is a health issue, not a criminal issue. Research, and now the law, confirms our position that safe injection sites such as Insite perform an important health-care role in the lives of people living with chronic addiction-related problems.”

It would be nice to see politicians here take a similarly courageous, and apparently fiscally responsible, stance.

By the Ottawa Citizen editorial board
Source: Ottawa Citizen