Earlier this year Montreal, Quebec in Canada had announced they would be opening several safe injections sites around the city. This raised a few eyebrows and a few concerns as well, as safe injection sites are gaining traction across Canada.
What is a Safe Injection Site?
A safe injection site is a facility that allows injection-drug users (usually heroin), to inject themselves with drugs in a safe manner under medically trained supervision. The clinics supply clean needles, addiction counseling and have medical staff on site to prevent and intervene when overdoses occur. The clinic does not provide any drugs but mainly acts as a service to avoid the spread of diseases and reduce the risk of fatalities.
The first safe injection site in North America, Insite, was opened in 2003 in Vancouver, BC. Interestingly enough, the operation of a safe injection site was technically not legal due to factors in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, and therefore Insite has required an exemption of Section 56 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to operate. This exemption lasted for three years and was later extended.
We now see safe injection sites popping up all over Canada, including Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal.
Why Do We Need Safe Injection Sites?
Safe injection sites not only allow for injection-drug users to inject safely, but they provide many other benefits for drug users and community members alike.
Decreased Risk of Spreading Diseases
Think about it. These drug users often come from low socio-economic backgrounds and therefore do not have a lot of money to purchase new and clean needles every time they want to use, but rather share and re-use them. Not only can this cause infections and other complications but also cause the spread of diseases such as HIV and AIDS.
In 2010, the International Journal of Drug Policy determined in a cost-benefit analysis that Insite prevented 35 cases of HIV and approximately three deaths in their first year. Montreal is seeing similar success in its first few months of opening safe injection sites.
Decreased Public Injections
By having drug users inject in safe places under supervision, it ensures that they are not injecting in public and potentially unsafe areas. Not only does this make the environment safer but it also prevents users from discarding of their used and possibly infected or contaminated needles and equipment in public places like parks.
In Ottawa, Ontario there are needle drop-boxes as well as pharmacies that participate in the Take It Back! program. These drop-boxes and pharmacies aim to keep the community safer and prevent the spread of blood-borne diseases by having designated areas to dispose of used needles and equipment.
Increased Use of Addiction Treatment
A study claimed that injection-drug users were 30% more likely to participate in detoxification and treatment compared to the years prior to Insites existence. The availability and accessibility of these services are important in terms of allowing users the opportunity to seek out help and combat their addictions to harmful substances.
Decrease in Overdose Mortality
In Montreal alone, there are 4,000 injection-drug users, 17 of which die every year due to drug-related overdoses. It may be too soon to study the effects of the safe injection sites in Montreal. However, Insite in Vancouver saw a 35% decrease in fatal overdoses in their first year of operation. It is crucial to supervise the injections to ensure proper dosage is administered to prevent fatalities, as many drug users may not be aware of accurate dosages to self-administer.
Why the Skepticism?
While it is apparent that safe injection sites help to increase the use of treatment and drug counseling as well as decrease overdose-related mortality some are still skeptical about having these sites in their cities and communities.
Supporting Drug Use
Although safe injection sites have been proven to decrease drug use and overdose mortality, as well as increase the number of users who are seeking out treatment to combat their addictions, naysayers claim that these sites are encouraging and promoting drug use. Many also argue that the money spent on such facilities could be, and should be, used for other government programs providing treatment instead.
Not Helping the Drug Situation
Contrary to the multiple studies performed specifically on safe injection sites and their effectiveness, some people still believe that they are not contributing anything to the community or to the issues of drug use. Some believe that safe injection sites could also act as a target for drug dealers.
Others are concerned about having such facilities located near their homes or in their neighborhoods. The skepticism is mostly heard from people not wanting drug users and potentially dealers to be wandering around where their children will be playing or commuting to and from school, which is a fair point. However, safe injection sites in Montreal have a point as well. They’ve stated that every injection that occurs within their facility is one that is not happening on the streets or in public places. Where would you rather the drug users inject?
Bringing It All Together
Based on a variety of in-depth studies concerning safe injection facilities we can confidently conclude that they do have benefits regarding public safety, reducing the spread of blood-borne diseases and reducing rates of overdose-related fatalities. We can most likely anticipate more of these sites and associated services opening in our neighborhoods and becoming available to those who need it in our communities.
At the end of the day, drug users will keep administering their drugs, whether they do it on the streets or in an injection facility. Luckily, with the accessibility of the services provided, they will have more access to treatment and counseling and the ability to decide to conquer their addiction on their own terms.