Substance use has had a devastating impact throughout Canada – on individuals, families, and communities. It’s a complex issue, and there is no simple solution.
“Supervised Consumption Sites,” as the government of Canada’s website calls them, are part of the nation’s harm reduction approach, and form a portion of Canada’s strategy to reduce drug crime, overdoses from dangerous substances, and the spread of diseases contracted by intravenous drug use.
The evidence clearly shows that safe injection sites help save lives and improve health. Research also shows that the safe injection sites do not increase drug use and crime in surrounding areas. But the city of Calgary might just prove the contrary is true.
Recently, the province of Alberta has committed $200,000 to create a team tasked with reducing crime while monitoring the city’s only safe drug “consumption site”.
Health Minister Sarah Hoffman made the announcement just hours after a report from police showing the crime rate in the Beltline has skyrocketed near the Safeworks Harm Reduction Program.
Although drug crimes are declining in the rest of the city, the report on crime and disorder shows a 250-meter zone near the site has become the epicenter for drug, violent, and property crimes in the downtown area.
Canada.ca’s informational section on Supervised Consumption Sites paints a much more flattering picture of the zones, which are described as “a safe, clean place to consume illegal substances” that have “less risk of violence or confrontation with police.”
Police have previously said drug dealers are infiltrating the community to target vulnerable elements of the population using the site.
Stats from 2018 show a 276 percent increase in drug-related calls to police in the zone, along with a 29 percent rise in the overall number of calls for service compared with the three-year average.
Violence in the area is up nearly 50 percent, while vehicular crime has increased 63 percent. Break-and-enters are also up by more than 60 percent, and the total number of calls to police jumped 36 per cent in 2018 compared with the previous year.
There are at least 100 supervised injection sites that operate around the world. These can be found mainly in Europe, Australia, and across Canada.
The way they’re supposed to work is clear: Drug users come in with their own drugs. They are given clean needles to prevent the spread of disease. Staff are on hand with breathing masks and naloxone, which is used to prevent death during overdose.
Some cities, though, remain on the fence as to whether or not they should start having supervised injection sites in their city. Windsor, Ontario, is one of them.
Windsor has become a type of refuge for addicts across Ontario, who want to escape harsh winters and high heroin prices. Windsor, comparatively, does not have as harsh of winters as Toronto, Hamilton, Ottawa, or even London (and apparently, also has some of the cheapest heroin in Canada.)
The MPP for Windsor West, Lisa Gretzky, is calling upon Premier Ford to take action quickly, and even mentions the struggles of an addict that the Premier knew personally.
“If we look at Premier Ford, he had a brother that struggled with addiction, and so he should be willing to listen to experts out there who are saying that we should be doing everything we possibly can to make sure we are saving lives and getting people into treatment to help with their addiction,” said Gretzky.
Gretzky pointed to data from the Windsor-Essex Community Health Centre, which shows the current legal safe injection sites are effective at saving lives. The New Democrat says the injection sites in Ontario have saved about 917 lives.
Gretzky called on the minister to act quickly, especially in light of the opioid epidemic. 37 people died of opioid-related overdoses in 2016 in Windsor, a city of roughly 217,000.
It appears as though the supervised consumption sites do service a solid purpose, as they are keeping people alive. The unfortunate reality, though, is that criminals will prey on the vulnerable, no matter what the environment is.
Just because there are safe injection sites does not mean that the culture around addiction has changed.
There are still dangerous people, people looking for their next high, or criminals that could all potentially ruin these sites.
The jury is still out as to whether these supervised consumption sites serve as a net positive for communities. On one hand, there are lives being saved. On the other, crime seems to find a focal point in these areas. Only time will tell.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments.