Donna May believes a safe injection site could have saved her daughter

It's been just a little more than two years since Donna May, the mother of a dead drug addict, came to Ottawa to plead for a safe injection site in the nation's capital.

Her message couldn't have been more clear or more heartbreaking.

"Mine is a hard story to tell. If you have already formed an opinion, based on what you've been told, or educated by what your community leaders have guided you to believe, I used to be one of you," she said back in October 2013.

"There is no worse blind man than the one who does not want to see. I changed my opinion completely and my hope in sharing my story is to at least open your mind."

May, who lives in Toronto, was feeling safe in her suburban lifestyle when her daughter began taking drugs.

With her story, she could have been speaking directly to me -and to many of my suburban friends and thousands of others who just inherently feel without any real justification that safe injection sites are absolutely wrong.

The good news about her appearance calling for safe injection sites is that May did cause many of us in the room to think more thoughtfully about our somewhat instinctive and very negative reaction to safe injection sites.

For sure, it's a hard sell.

Both Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson and Ottawa Police Chief Chuck Bordeleau have publicly come out against them.

No surprise there.

There just seems to be something so wrong to not just sanction but enable drug use.

Still very hard to get your head around.

May called on the crowd gathered in downtown Ottawa for a public discussion on safe injection sites -- admitting that she was so ashamed of her daughter, some of her own friends were unaware she even had one.

It wasn't until her daughter was dying, that they reconnected and learned from one another what the other had been going through over the years.

Supervised consumption sites are public health facilities that offer a safe, hygienic place where people can use their own drugs under medical supervision.

Canada's first supervised injection site, Insite, has been operating since 2003 in downtown Vancouver.

The evidence from Insite -- and from more than 90 such sites around the world -- suggests that supervised consumption sites reduce the spread of diseases such as HIV, prevent overdose deaths, and improve access to addiction treatment programs. They have also been shown to encourage cleaner, safer streets by reducing public drug use and drug equipment litter.

A recently-released study is bound to renew that debate.

New research is making a financial argument in its call for opening five supervised-injection sites across Ontario, including two in Ottawa.

New research suggests it makes strong financial sense given the increasing effectiveness of hepatitis C treatment.

In fact, the study says there's a 90% chance that safer injection sites in Ottawa just makes financial sense.

Unfortunately for proponents, it's just an incredibly hard sell.

In Ottawa, there's a organization called the Campaign for Safer Consumption Sites in Ottawa, formed in response to what the group describes as an ongoing health crisis.

"Ottawa has Ontario's highest rate of new HIV infection among injection drug users. Eleven per cent of people who inject drugs in Ottawa are infected with HIV, while 70% have contracted hepatitis C. Someone dies of drug overdose every 8 days in our city -- deaths that could be prevented with timely medical intervention," the group's website states.

But numbers just don't beat emotion.

And almost certainly, if I didn't have kids myself, I wouldn't have heard any part of May's message.

But to hear her state that she unequivocally believes a safe injection site could have saved her daughter, well it makes you pause, pause and wonder.

Just because I've never faced what May endured doesn't weaken her message.

But May accomplished much of why she came to Ottawa to speak.

She got people thinking.

That of course, is all May ever asked for.

By Susan Sherring
Source: Ottawa Sun