Over the past thirty years, a prevailing narrative and solution have been presented to the general public when it comes to drug policy: drugs are bad, drugs have terrible effects on society at large, so therefore we should crack down harshly on anyone involved with drugs. While the first two points of that line of thinking are largely correct, I would argue to say that the third is out of touch with the realities and shades of grey regarding how these crackdowns are played out on the ground. Disproportionately, nonviolent drug offenders who often belong to the most vulnerable subsections of society are caught up in the net. We need to create a better-rounded drug policy so not only do we save money by deploying the resources of the federal and provincial governments to better uses and fulfilling our moral obligation as a country towards the poorest and most desperate of our citizens by giving them the tools to lift themselves up and turn away from a dangerous path before it’s too late. Safe injection sites such as Insite, in Vancouver, can be one of the tools to do that. Conservatives tend to deride programs like InSite as an all you can inject buffet for junkies to shoot up legally. I see it instead as a way station for many purposes that can help relieve the pressures being put on the government and the legal system.
When you look beyond the availability of the drugs themselves, safe injection sites are actually a much more tailored way of protecting the most vulnerable in our society from the ravages of this epidemic. Having these sites where there is no judgement or predatory intent towards the addict gives them the chance to find it within themselves to make the right choices in a safe environment amongst people who want to help them. You take the addict off the streets into the facility, where they won’t be a nuisance or danger to their fellow citizens and give them a product that they need. It is a poisonous product, but the product is pure which means that they are less likely to die of an overdose or of a bad reaction to artificial drugs. Meanwhile, throughout the process, the doctors, counsellors and volunteers present are able to continually attempt to coax the patient and funnel them through into various treatment programs which will help rehabilitate the patient and eventually wean them off drugs entirely. Another way this helps our poorest is that the presence of these safe injection sites cleans up the city for everyone else, particularly the inner-cities, by taking the drugs out of the open city and into these safe harbours.
In a city where drugs have a significant presence, it is not uncommon to see drug deals take place on street corners, dark alleys and abandoned industrial sites with drug addicts shooting up in those very same sites or even in public parks, bus shelters or under bridges. If these safe injection sites are in place, it would go a long way towards helping to get drug addicts off the streets. That way there will be less of a nuisance to city life, particularly in the inner cities where drug use tends to occur the most. Safe injection sites can also be a useful deterrent to encourage children to stay away from drugs. Schools and juvenile facilities can use these safe injection sites as part of the Scared Straight program in order to show to kids and young adults what the ravages of drug use are in a controlled environment. If used correctly, safe injection sites can be one of the best tools in the arsenal of a Conservative government to treat the drug problems going on in our cities.
Economically, safe injection sites have the potential of alleviating the economic pressures that the drug epidemic wreaks on municipal and provincial budgets. Firstly, the demographic that would benefit the most from the presence of safe injection sites are non-violent drug users who are often over-represented in the prison system. Having these sites can reduce the presence of these people who are often in jail for substantially longer periods of time than necessary due to mandatory minimums in sentencing. It costs more money to feed, clothe and house an inmate in prison than to institute a safe-injection site so it could not only alleviate the pressures placed on the correctional system financially but it would also prove that a Conservative government is serious about criminal justice reform and reducing the financial burden of the justice system to allow it to allocate the resources it needs to take on serious, violent crimes. In addition, the presence of injection sites means that there is a place where needles can be handled safely, which reduces the chances that the addict will transmit or be infected by blood-borne diseases such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis. The less dirty needles are out there in circulation, the fewer people will end up in our pharmacies, hospital beds and hospice centres and the less strain will be placed upon provincial health care systems, again freeing up resources in the health care budgets to improve things that have been neglected for a while such as streamlining patient wait times, bringing in more family doctors and improving access to health care for Aboriginal communities.
In conclusion, safe injection sites should become part of Conservative policy because not only is it compatible with our fiscal conservatism due to the fact that having these safe injection sites will save money for and alleviate the stresses on our health care system, our correctional system and on our municipalities and provinces; as well as fulfilling our mission as Conservatives and as Canadians to help uplift the most vulnerable and the most desperate among us who need our help the most. By framing and implementing this policy correctly as a measure to help people rather than enable them, we can shore up our credentials as a party of grace and compassion; and this is what we need more of in this debate.