Ottawa safe injection site could work—if it overcomes ideology

It’s become something of a tradition in recent years. Yet another study presents evidence supporting supervised injection sites for intravenous drug users, and our elected officials respond with heroic efforts to ignore it.

The latest one from Simon Fraser University, published in Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention and Policy, makes a pocketbook argument for two such facilities in Ottawa and thus might be expected to appeal to our conspicuously frugal mayor.

Based on projections that the two sites, at an annual cost of $4.4 million to operate, would prevent nine cases of HIV annually and 88 cases of hepatitis C alone, the researchers calculate health-care savings of just under $5 million.

“These are very conservative estimates because we are not considering the cost of prevented overdose deaths,” said Ehsan Jozaghi, one of the report’s authors. “I mean, how can you put a value on human life?”

But the study also pointed out that the biggest obstacle to opening a facility here is resistance from our federal and municipal governments and police.

Indeed, as the mayor’s office responded to Metro’s inquiries by email: “Since assuming office Mayor Watson has been consistent in his opposition to safe injection sites believing that scarce resources are better served being put towards treatment at facilities like those in the east and west ends of Ottawa. This continues to be his position and it is one that is supported by Ottawa’s Police Chief, Charles Bordeleau.”

Watson can’t be faulted on his consistency. Two years ago, when a study recommended supervised injection sites for both Toronto and Ottawa, the cities with the highest and second-highest rates of HIV infection, respectively, in the province, he argued that expert opinion on the sites is split.

“There are studies on both sides that show whether it’s working or whether it’s not working,” he said. “I have to live in the realm of reality.”

But reality didn’t back the mayor’s assertion. More than 50 peer-reviewed studies have indicated that Vancouver’s Insite, the only such facility in North America, prevents disease and overdoses and gets addicts into treatment. On the other side? Nada. This split in expert opinion is pure fiction.

“People just shouldn’t be allowed to say that, because it’s like saying the world’s flat,” Dr. Mark Tyndall, head of the infectious disease unit at the Ottawa Hospital, told me at the time. “You have an ideological opinion about drug use and somehow you can undermine all the science by one statement that you think it’s split. You will not find anybody who has researched this or anybody who works in the field that will tell you that there’s controversy about the effectiveness of this.”

Catherine Hacksel of the Campaign for Safer Consumption Sites in Ottawa still believes that eventually evidence will prevail over stigma, and a site will open here.

“This is the right thing to do, but it feels like a hard sell for politicians, or they think it might be,” she said.  “A lot of it has to do with ideology…. Some people can’t accept that (IV drug use) is happening, and Ottawa is the kind of town that in my opinion is really good at covering a problem.”

By Steve Collins
Source: Metro News Ottawa